Individual risk factors — You may be at increased risk of a herniated disk if you work at a job or participate in a sport that involves heavy lifting or excessive twisting or bending. Herniated disks are most common in the lumbar and cervical regions. Herniated disks are relatively rare in the thoracic region, where they account for only 1 in every to disk herniations. The first symptom of a herniated disk is usually back pain in the area of the affected disk.
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Some researchers believe this pain is a signal that a disk's tough outer shell has been injured or weakened, not necessarily that the inner core has herniated. If the inner core does herniate and press on a nearby nerve, the resulting symptoms vary depending on the location of the herniated disk:. In the cervical region — There can be pain in the neck, shoulder, shoulder blade, arm or chest, together with numbness or weakness in the arm or fingers. If the pain is centered in the chest and arm, it can mimic the chest pain of heart disease.
Occasionally, frequent urination and headaches can occur. In the thoracic region — Symptoms tend to be vague, misleading and long lasting. There may be pain in the upper back, lower back, chest, abdomen or legs, together with weakness and numbness in one or both legs. Some affected people also complain of bowel or bladder incontinence. In the lumbar region — Many people suffer from years of intermittent and mild lower back pain before a single triggering event such as heavy lifting, sudden bending, abrupt twisting aggravates their symptoms to the point that they seek medical attention.
It also may develop without an identifiable triggering event. In most people with a lumbar disk herniation, severe leg pain is the chief complaint. This pain is called sciatica because it comes from pressure on the sciatic nerve. It usually begins in the lower back, then spreads into the buttocks and down the back of one thigh and leg.
Sciatica typically becomes worse if the patient coughs, sneezes, bears down or moves the back abruptly. While often relieved by rest, sciatica may become worse with driving or lifting. In addition, there may be numbness, tingling or muscle weakness in the buttocks or leg on the side of the pain. In rarer and more severe forms of lumbar disk herniation, the nerve is compressed more extensively. If this happens, additional symptoms can develop, including rectal pain; loss of bowel and bladder control; and numbness around the genital area, buttocks or backs of the thighs.
Your health care professional will review your medical history, including any history of fever, cancer, steroid use or recent back injuries. Your doctor then will ask you specific questions about your pain:.
Anatomy of the discs
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This article will look at some of the exercises that can relieve pain, speed recovery, and help prevent a herniated disk from recurring.
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Exercises and physiotherapy are often important parts of recovery from a herniated disk. A doctor will usually recommend a few days of rest after experiencing a herniated disk. Doing gentle activities and exercises will strengthen the muscles that support the spine and reduce pressure on the spinal column.
They will also promote flexibility in the spine and may help reduce the risk of a herniated disk from recurring. A doctor may suggest starting small and building up the level of activity slowly. They will discuss specific exercises that a person should and should not perform during the recovery period. Perform all exercises in a slow and controlled manner, especially when bending or lifting.
Exercises should not hurt. If a person feels pain, they should stop doing the exercises and speak with their doctor. Neck pain is common after a slipped disk. Pressure on the nerves in the neck can cause pain in the neck and shoulder muscles. It may also cause shooting pain down the arm. Herniation of the disc between these vertebrae may cause pain or loss of motor function in your neck as well as your upper arm and hand. One simple yet effective exercise for a herniated disc in the neck involves tucking your chin. This exercise can be performed in a variety of positions depending on your injury and level of rehabilitation.
This exercise is performed while sitting comfortably in a chair with your back straight.
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Place your finger on the front of your chin. Slowly draw your chin in toward your neck, away from your finger, without dropping your head or looking down. Hold your chin in for a few seconds, then slowly release back to the starting position. Perform two to three repetitions every 20 to 30 minutes if you are sitting for extended periods of time. Poor posture can affect your vertebrae, increasing the pressure on a herniated disc.
Exercises to improve posture can relieve pain and strengthen the muscles that support your neck and spine. Stand with your feet together and your arms hanging by your sides. Inhale and bring your shoulders up, then roll them down and back, gently squeezing your shoulder blades together. Exhale and perform the chin tuck while keeping your shoulder blades moving toward each other. Hold for a few seconds and release. Repeat this movement two to three times and practice this posture a few times per day.