Ruptured discs most frequently occur in the neck or lower back. The nerve compression, irritation and inflammation caused by the rupture or herniation is a common reason why approximately four out of every five Americans experience lower back pain at some time in their lives.
WEST ORANGE, N.J. (PRWEB) May 10, 2019
Former President John Kennedy, quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tony Romo, professional golfer Tiger Woods, and actors Harrison Ford and Charlize Theron share at least one thing in common. “They all underwent treatment to correct a ruptured spinal disc,” says world renowned endoscopic spine surgeon, Kaixuan Liu, MD, PhD.
Ruptured discs most frequently occur in the neck or lower back. The nerve compression, irritation and inflammation caused by the rupture or herniation is a common reason why approximately four out of every five Americans experience lower back pain at some time in their lives, says Dr. Liu, medical director of the Atlantic Spine Center.
A herniated neck disc may lead to arm pain, as well as numbness and a tingling sensation that extend to the fingers. A ruptured disc in the lower back can result in sharp pain in the buttocks and a shooting pain, tingling and even weakness in one or both legs – a condition known as sciatica, Dr. Liu says.
Located between the spine’s vertebrae, discs serve as nature’s shock-absorbers. “They are rubbery pads, consisting of a tough, outer shell and a gel-like inner core. They absorb stress and pressure on the spine and permit the spine to flex, twist and bend,” Dr. Liu explains.
Degenerative disc disease, a wear-and-tear process in which discs lose water content and become dry and brittle over time, may result in a “slipped” or ruptured disc, but age is not the only causative factor, Dr. Liu says.
Injuries, like the “hit” Tony Romo took on the football field in a game against the Washington Redskins; repetitive movements that put pressure on the spine; improper lifting of heavy objects; unusual twisting of the spine during work, sports or exercise; and, sometimes, simply genetics will force a disc to herniate or rupture, Dr. Liu states.
A disc bulges as some of its soft, inner material –– the nucleus propulsus – protrudes through a weakened portion of the disc’s protective outer shell – the annulus fibrosus. As more gel seeps out, the bulging disc starts pressing against spinal nerves. Rupturing happens when the entire annulus fibrosus cracks open. Besides the pressure that the injured disc puts on surrounding nerves, the acidity of the gel itself can inflame and irritate them, Dr. Liu says.
To correct their disc issues, celebrities like Harrison Ford, Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, even former President George W. Bush underwent surgery. However, surgery is not always a necessary – or recommended – course of treatment, Dr. Liu emphasizes.
“In fact, no single treatment – either for a diseased cervical disc or a ruptured disc in the back -- works best for all patients. Oftentimes, a ruptured disc will heal on its own without major intervention,” he says.
To relieve the herniated-disc pain, orthopedic specialists usually take a conservative approach, including heat or cold applications, physical therapy and exercise, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, even oral steroidal drugs or epidural injections to reduce inflammation.
But, should a patient’s condition worsen, become chronic or interfere with normal activities, physicians now have an arsenal of other options to offer thanks to spinal treatment advances, Dr. Liu says.
Among these options are:
- Pulsed radiofrequency, a minimally invasive approach to reduce inflammation of irritated nerves in the lower back. It was presented at the 2018 annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.
- Injections of a patient’s own platelet-rich blood plasma or stem cells harvested from the bone marrow or adipose (fat) tissue into the damaged disc space, and
- New operative techniques, such as endoscopic microdiscectomy, which is performed through tubes rather than through an open incision to remove part of a ruptured disc.
- “Obviously, the best treatment is to simply avoid damaging spinal discs,” Dr. Liu says, offering these prevention tips:
- Improve lifestyle. Reduce alcohol consumption, stop smoking and lose weight.
- Exercise regularly, with emphasis on stabilizing the lower back by swimming, biking, walking or aerobic activities.
- Avoid heavy lifting but, if the job requires it, use proper lifting techniques by bending the knees not the lower back.
- Maintain a straight, natural posture when standing or sitting, especially when sitting for long periods at a desk or in a vehicle.
Kaixuan Liu, MD, PhD, is a board-certified physician who is fellowship-trained in minimally invasive spine surgery at Atlantic Spine Center.