Back and neck pain are fairly common as we grow older. Whether patients are spending increasing amounts of time engaged in strenuous exercise or more sedentary activities where they are seated for hours a day at the computer, the risk for pains related to strains and inflammation is high, but can be treated with rest, exercise, heat or ice, and non-prescription medication. But what if these approaches do not provide relief for back or neck pain? You might be suffering from a herniated disc, which can affect almost 50% of Americans over the age of 50.
The discs in our spines cushion our vertebrae with fluid that tends to dry out over time. As the discs become more fragile, they are more prone to damage from simple twisting movements. Once the disc has become damaged, it can slip or protrude, pinching the nerves it is designed to protect and causing pain that can be acute or even immobilizing.
Herniated discs can occur in any non-fused portions of the spine – the cervical, thoracic or lumbar regions. Herniated discs most commonly occur in the lower back or lumbar region because of the types of movements that stress this area. Symptoms of a herniated disc include: arm or leg pain, which becomes an acute shooting pain when you sneeze or cough or engage in certain motions, weakness, numbness or tingling in areas radiating from the spine, and pain when walking short distances or at night.
While age and injury are the two most common causes of a herniated disc, five risk factors can lead to the injury:
- Being overweight – if you have a Body Mass Index of above 30, the excess weight puts stress on the lower back.
- Sedentary lifestyle – If you sit too much for extended periods of time, the effects can be disastrous on your spine. The pressure can cause the discs to become compressed, and without frequent exercise of moderate intensity, the spine gets no relief from the pressure of prolonged sitting.
- Demanding or repetitive motions – if your job requires strenuous physical activity or repeated motions like bending and twisting, this can be quite difficult on your back. Without appropriate breaks or time to recover, this type of work can wreak havoc on spinal health.
- Age and genetic predisposition – as we age, our bodies become less able to process nutrients, and the musculoskeletal systems suffer wear and tear. If you have a predisposition for issues such as arthritis or autoimmune disorders, the breakdown of the supporting structures in the spine can be accelerated, leading to more problems.
- History of herniated discs – if your medical history contains previous episodes of herniated discs or spinal problems, the likelihood that these issues will recur is very high.
The primary way to avoid these risk factors is with diet and frequent moderate exercise. If excess pounds can be shed and the lifestyle changed so that you are not sitting or standing or engaging in repetitive motions for hours on end, much of the wear and tear on the spine can be reduced.
To learn more about the risks and treatments we have a available for herniated discs, contact our office for a free consultation.