The herniated disc affection is a disorder that happens when a part of the intervertebral disc breaks and the nerve roots are being either fragmented or compressed. The spinal cord in its vicinity can also be affected inside the spinal canal. To understand better the concept of a herniated disc, you need to learn more about how the entire spine is built. The vertebral column, also called the backbone, is composed of several vertebrae which include the intervertebral discs. The role of these discs is to give the column the required elasticity and, ultimately, to move the body in all the ways needed (flexion, straightening, bending laterally etc.). These intervertebral discs have a nucleus that is formed by gelatinous proteins that give them the aforementioned elasticity. The nucleus is surrounded by a fibrous ring that is capable of fixing the nucleus in place and gives stability to the intervertebral disc itself.
One very important thing that anyone should know is that the intervertebral discs are being irrigated with blood directly until the age of 7. After a person reached that point, the discs receive irrigation by diffusing the blood present in the surrounding vessels. This means that after the age of 7, the intervertebral discs begin to age. Another very important feature of the intervertebral discs is that they have the ability to retain and release water through their existent gelatinous proteins in the nucleus. This enables any disc to perform a damping function. When there is any kind of pressure exerted on the spine, the proteins located in the nucleus quickly retain water and they take the place of an elastic cushion. When the pressure decreases, these proteins release the water that was previously fixed. In order to achieve the completion of this hydration-dehydration process, it takes a certain amount of time and there are cases when the pressure on the vertebral column increases way too fast to allow the proteins do their job. Hydration can’t be completed in such cases and starts affecting the intervertebral disc. There will be cracks in the intervertebral discs that can appear due to pressure and these cracks will eventually lead to a herniated disc.
There are three main stages in the development of a herniated disc so you will know when the herniated disc surgery is required:
• Developing disc holes and cracks – At this stage, the proteins in the nucleus can penetrate into the cracks of the main fibrous ring of the intervertebral disc. The disc will start to get swollen and will go beyond the main vertebrae. In most cases, at this stage, neither the spinal cord nor the nerve roots are affected, so you won’t notice any kind of symptom.
• Developing disc tearing – In this phase, the material which can be found inside the nucleus passes through the fibrous ring in the disc and the nerve roots are affected. Here, you will start noticing the first symptoms of a herniated disc.
• Free fragments – At this stage, a part of the nucleus completely breaks and becomes a free fragment moving in the vertebral canal, where it will compress the spinal cord and the nerve roots in the area. Now, the symptomatology is getting worse and worse.
What symptoms will I encounter?
Depending on the type of a herniated disc you have, there are specific symptoms or no symptoms at all you can encounter. In the first phase described above, this affection can be fully asymptomatic, unless one nerve root is affected. Pain will start at the lumbar level of your back and will gradually extend into one or both legs from the upper side to the tip. You can also encounter tingling and numbness in one or both of your legs. Experiencing pain in the anterior side of your thigh is also encountered often. The symptoms that should send you straight to the doctor are weakness in both legs, loss of bladder control, loss of colon control and a disorder of the sexual function.
Another case would be the one where you start noticing cervical pain. Pain can expand to the shoulders and arms, even the fingers. If you notice any of these, you should start paying attention to any sign of paraesthesia in the areas above mentioned. If not treated, this can lead to paralysis, motor deficiency and other serious effects. Some patients claim that they did not encounter any kind of pain irradiation in the shoulders or legs so the area can be strictly local. It is strongly recommended making an appointment for some radiographies, MRIs and computed topographies and have a doctor check them out so you will exclude other possible causes of local pain.
The surgical intervention of the herniated disc affection is a solution for extreme cases. It is required to follow your medical treatment and recovery even after the surgery itself. The disc kernel can be operated but this should be a well-grounded case. In the best cases of surgery, you will encounter a small incision, low muscle damage and minimal post-op pain. No nausea and dizziness should be implied immediately after the surgery and mobilization should be possible in the very same day, if everything went well. The hospitalization period should be at least 24 hours and the recovery is not going to be as harsh as you believe. Unlike in the past, when muscles needed to be detached from the spine in order to fix this problem, at present this surgery is minimally invasive and there is no huge risk implied in having it performed on you. Post-op pain is not a thing you need to worry about.