The vertebrae are divided into 4 parts: cervical, lumbar, thoracic, and sacrum, and 25 vertebrae are connected vertically to support the center of our body. And between each vertebra, there is a cartilage called an intervertebral disc, also called a disc, which makes the movement of the spine smooth and at the same time acts as a buffer to absorb external shocks. A herniated disc is a disease in which the inner nucleus pulposus of the disc, a structure between the bones of the spine, escapes and compresses the spinal nerves passing around it, causing various neurological abnormalities. The correct name is lumbar disc herniation, but it is commonly called a lumbar disc. The exact cause of herniated discs is still unknown. It is known that various factors such as degenerative changes due to aging, physical overload from lifting heavy objects or continuing excessive work, habitual wrong posture, smoking, obesity, and external shocks such as traffic accidents or falls. In addition, it is reported that the incidence rate has risen significantly not only among the middle-aged but also among young people in their 20s and 30s, due to a combination of factors such as incorrect posture and various lifestyles. Now, let’s learn more about the various symptoms, treatment, and prevention related to herniated disc in more detail.
Main symptoms of herniated disc
When a herniated disc occurs, the prolapsed disc stimulates the sensation that passes through each segment, resulting in pain in the lower back. At the same time, pain occurs in the buttocks, and pain, numbness, and numbness may appear in the legs as well. In addition, paresthesia may appear, in which the sensation is different from that of the opposite leg, and the strength of the leg is reduced and the leg loses strength and feels heavy. These pains appear in the form of radiating pain and sciatica that start in the lower back or buttocks and extend to the legs, instep, and sole of the foot.
These symptoms of herniated disc are often overlooked as simple back pain. If the symptoms worsen if left unattended, the muscles in the affected area due to motor nerve paralysis in the lower extremities become thin and the muscle strength is weakened, which can make it difficult to lead a normal life. In particular, radiating pain in the lower extremities caused by direct stimulation of the nerve root causes unbearably severe pain, and when the symptoms are more severe, symptoms of constipation and paralysis of the lower extremities due to paralysis of the leg muscles may appear. In most cases, it is known that symptoms improve only with conservative treatment without surgical treatment, so it is important to receive appropriate examination and treatment before symptoms worsen. In addition, as it is known that factors due to various lifestyles affect the occurrence of herniated discs, improving lifestyle habits and postures that aggravate symptoms is just as important as treatment.
Herniated disc treatment and prevention
1. Treatment based on various tests and diagnosis results
To diagnose a herniated disc, a physical examination is performed to check for abnormalities in deep tendon reflexes, sensation, and muscle strength. In addition, spinal external examination, range of motion examination, and straight lower extremity examination can be performed to check the range of motion and pain of the joint. X-rays, CT, MRI, and spinal angiography are performed. Depending on the diagnosis result, you will take a rest for rest and at the same time take a bed rest for several days to remove the gravity applied to the disc. Non-surgical treatments such as drug therapy, injection therapy, and physical therapy using muscle relaxants and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are performed. In 80 to 90% of cases, these non-surgical and conservative treatments usually improve within 2 months. However, if these conservative treatments do not work, or if nerve damage such as severe pain, paralysis, or sensory abnormality progresses, surgical treatment may be considered.
2. Correcting behaviors and habits that put strain on the lower back
Even if the symptoms have improved by implementing the various treatments mentioned above, if you continue the habit that is causing the worsening of symptoms, there is a possibility of recurrence. When lifting heavy objects, avoid bending at the waist and lift the object with the body as close to the body as possible and with the waist upright. And when you sit on a chair, you have to attach your hips to the backrest, and it is good to sit with your back straight. If you have been sitting for more than an hour, it is recommended to do stretching and bare-handed gymnastics for about 5 minutes. In addition, when standing, it is recommended to put one foot on a box or footrest, and when driving, it is a good way to put a cushion on the back to support it, and at the same time bring the seat closer to the steering wheel and raise the knees.
3. Regular exercise that is good for the lower back
In the prevention and treatment of herniated discs, regular exercise is also a very important management habit. When you exercise, such as walking or swimming, it helps to prevent the occurrence and recurrence of a herniated disc because it improves the flexibility of the spine and strengthens the muscles and ligaments of the back without putting a burden on the spine and back.
Also, if you are obese due to being overweight, it is very important to control your diet for proper weight management because the weight load on the spine increases and the chances of damaging the disc are much higher. Also, smoking is known to be a risk factor that affects the occurrence of herniated discs by constricting microvessels that supply nutrients to the annulus fibrous at the back of the intervertebral disc, so it is important to stop smoking.