Overview of a Herniated Disc

When the discs in a person’s spine work properly, they protect the spine from injury. A disc is a small oval pad that acts as a cushion to the spine. Damage to the disc can result in a herniated disc, also called a slipped or ruptured disc.

What is a Herniated Disc?

A disc consists of two layers: an outer layer (annulus) and an inner layer (nucleus). The outer layer is tough, while the inner layer is composed of soft gel-like material. A herniated disc can occur because of aging or because of an injury to the spine. Many herniated disc injuries result from increased pressure to the back, a heavy strain, or from repetitive activities like lifting or exposure to vibration. An injury occurs when cracks or holes in the outer layer of the disc cause gel from the inner layer to spill out into the spinal canal. This can cause the disc to break or bulge.

Symptoms of a Herniated Disc

In some cases, a person with a herniated disc will not experience any symptoms. For others, a herniated disc can be very painful. Symptoms of a herniated disc include the following:

  • Lower back pain: pain and numbness in the buttocks and down the leg, which can worsen when coughing or sneezing
  • Sciatica: shooting pain in buttocks and down the back of the leg
  • Nerve pain: numbness, weakness, and pain can occur in the lower back and in one leg, the neck, shoulder, chest, or arm

Treatment of a Herniated Disc

In many cases, a herniated disc will heal on its own. Most herniated disc injuries heal through nonsurgical treatment methods. Treatment may include rest, medication for pain relief, exercise, and physical therapy. According to WebMD , 10 percent of people with a herniated disc undergo surgery to correct the problem.

The reasons for back/lumbar surgery are to decompress a nerve root that is pinched. As with other forms of surgery, the back pain cannot simply be cut out, rather the anatomy of the lumbar spine can be changed to help remove the probable cause of the pain. The goal of back surgery is to reduce pain and improve function. The lumbar spine is made up of vertebrae which cover and protect the spinal cord/canal. The cord contains nerves which provide sensation to the legs/lower extremities. The discs between the vertebrae provide support and stability and allow motion. An insult or injury to a disc may cause impingement on the nerve, creating a bulging of the disc against the spinal cord, causing lumbar stenosis and eventual spondylosis. The changes cause narrowing of the spinal cord, pinch the spinal cord and nerve roots resulting in a condition known as radiculopathy. Lumbar radiculopathy, frequently manifests itself as pain in the buttocks, thighs, lower legs with a combination of sensory loss, loss of motor function or reflex changes to the affected nerve root distribution. Acceptable treatment for low back pain resulting in radiculopathy, normally begins with conservative measures to most invasive. Acceptable treatments include oral medications in the category of non-steroidal, narcotic, non-narcotic pain, muscle relaxants, certain anti-depressants, anti-seizure medications used to control neuropathic pain anxiolytics. Additional treatments may include epidural steroid injections, pain patches, physical therapy, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, acupuncture, nerve blocks/ablation. Surgery is most often reserved for the most severe cases when all other treatments have been tried.

If you have sustained a herniated disc injury at work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation for your Pennsylvania work injury. Contact a Pennsylvania workers’ compensation lawyer at the Calhoon and Kaminsky P.C. Call 717-695-4722 or 877-291-WORK (9675) to schedule a consultation.