disc prolapse

This text provides information in simple language on the topic: herniated disc.

What is a herniated disc?

A herniated disc is a disease of the back. The herniated disc affects the spine. It consists of different parts. This includes:

  • Lumbar spine
  • Thoracic spine
  • Cervical spine

The spine is made up of vertebral bodies. The vertebral bodies form the vertebral canal. The spinal cord runs through the spinal canal. At the level of each vertebra, nerves come from the spinal cord. The nerves supply certain areas in the body. The intervertebral discs lie like a buffer between the individual vertebral bodies. So the vertebral bodies do not rub against each other.

Man has 23 intervertebral discs. The intervertebral discs have a gelatinous core inside. The gelatinous core acts like a gel cushion. The core is soft and malleable. It's elastic. There is a hard ring around the gelatinous core. It's called: fiber ring. The fiber ring holds the intervertebral disc in place. The gelatinous core soaks up with water. The water comes from the surrounding tissue. The gelatinous core can absorb shocks through the water. The shocks come from various human movements.

In older people, the intervertebral disc is no longer as elastic. With increasing age, the intervertebral disc loses water. Cracks can form in the fiber ring. The gelatinous core can then bulge outwards. This is called: protrusion. The gelatinous core can break through the fibrous ring. Then one speaks of a herniated disc.

© W & B / Szczesny / arr. Neisel

The most common type of disc herniation is the lumbar spine. The lumbar spine is in the lower part of the back.

How can you recognize a herniated disc?

A herniated disc can show several signs. The most common signs of a herniated disc are:

  • sudden pain in the back when exercising
  • worsening back pain
  • the muscles in the affected area of ​​the spine feel hard

Possible signs of a herniated disc in the lumbar spine are:

  • Pain in the buttocks or legs
  • Tingling in the leg
  • Paralysis of the leg muscles

Possible signs of a herniated disc in the cervical spine are:

  • Neck pain
  • Pain in the arm or hand
  • Pain in the back of the head
  • Tingling in hand
  • the hand feels cold or numb

In the case of a herniated disc, the spinal canal can also be narrowed. Then the spinal cord may get pinched. It can therefore lead to severe paralysis. Affected people may then no longer feel any contact. Such a severe herniated disc is an emergency! Affected people then have to go to hospital immediately.

Note: Back pain can result from a very severe herniated disc. Possible signs are:

  • You have paralysis.
  • Your thighs feel numb.
  • You have problems urinating.
  • You have problems with bowel movements.
  • You have trouble having intercourse.
  • The area around the penis, vagina, or anus feels numb.

One of these signs is true? Then call the emergency services immediately: Dial 112.

Do you have additional complaints? For example, do you have a fever? Then call the emergency services immediately.

Back pain can have many causes. A herniated disc is not always the cause. Harmless back pain often improves on its own. However, you must see a doctor immediately if these symptoms occur:

  • You have very bad back pain.
  • The pain does not improve after two to three days.
  • The pain gets worse.
  • The pain spreads: for example, you have pain in your arm or leg.
  • You feel a tingling sensation in your arm or leg.
  • The hand or leg feels numb.

One of these signs is true? Then go to the doctor right away.

Do you have another illness? Or do you take medication regularly? Or do you get back pain after an accident or an injury? Then go to the doctor immediately.

What are the causes of a herniated disc?

Some things increase the risk of a herniated disc. These things are for example:

  • high age
  • Obesity
  • little movement
  • constant sitting
  • heavy lifting

Predisposition can also be a possible cause of a herniated disc. Have other people in your family had herniated discs? Then your risk of a herniated disc may also be higher.

What can you do if you have a herniated disc?

Seek advice from your doctor. For many of those affected, the symptoms are reduced by conservative therapy. Often the symptoms even go away completely after a few weeks. Conservative therapy means include:

  • Pain relief medication
  • warmth
  • physical therapy
  • Sports
  • a step bed

Brief positioning in a step bed: This sometimes helps with back pain

© W & B / Astrid Zacharias

Conservative therapy doesn't help? Or is the herniated disc severe? Then surgery may be necessary.

How can you prevent a herniated disc?

Would you like to prevent a herniated disc? There are a few things you can do to do this:

  • Move around a lot. Do sports for your back such as gymnastics, swimming or cycling. Are you older than 35 years? Or do you have illnesses? Then seek advice from the doctor beforehand.
  • Avoid being overweight.
  • Sleep on the right mattress.
  • Do you work a lot while sitting? Then an ergonomic chair can help. Change your sitting position often. Get up and stretch yourself.
  • Do you often have to lift heavy loads? Then pay attention to the correct posture. Do not lift with a bent back. Get on your knees and keep your back straight.

Where can you get more information?

Would you like to read more about the herniated disc? You can find more information about the herniated disc here. Attention: This link leads out of our simple language offer. The information is then no longer in plain language.

Attention: This text only contains general information. The text does not replace a visit to the doctor. Only a doctor can give you accurate information. Are you feeling sick? Or do you have questions about an illness? Then you should always see a doctor.

We wrote the texts together with the Light Language Research Center. The light language research center is at the University of Hildesheim.

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