What is it?
A disc herniation is where the inner part (nucleus) of the disc in the spine protrudes out of the tough outer shell (annulus fibrosis).
The disc itself is a tough pad of tissue that supports one vertebrae to another. It acts as a shock absorber, and provides functional support and stability to the spine.
A disc herniation really has two injuries, the first is the actual tear of the cartilage of the tough fibrosis. The second is where the spongy nucleus is pressed out and pushes on one of the spinal nerves.
The nerve compression is often the most serious problem, causing a whole rage of issues from mild nagging pain and discomfort, to debilitating pain, it is hugely variable between people and injury sites.
How does it Happen?
A disc herniation is a serious injury, but most people would be surprised to find out that the majority of people have a disc herniation, but it is asymptomatic, meaning, its not causing a problem. Its only really when the nerves get impinged or compressed that issues arise.
The herniation occurs from excessive wear and tear on the disc, often as a result of forced forward flexion and rotation, which place tremendous pressure on the discs.
This may be as a result of long term degradation of the soft tissue, be it from bad postural habits, poor work roles, or even incorrect exercise technique. Some sports and activities are just not good for the discs, including sitting poorly, lifting with poor technique, or excessive repetitive movements.
The injury may occur almost instantaneously, like bending over to pick up a heavy load of washing, or take a long time to develop, either way, when it triggers, it can be very nasty.
How do I fix it?
Disc herniation’s can take some time to settle, it really depends on what part of the spine the disc has ruptured and where about around the vertebrae is the projecting disc.
Some disc hernaitions respond very well to treatment, this can be due to the size and location of the disc rupture, others may require surgery and medications.
Once the acute phase of the herniation has been dealt with, a graded exercise program can be very useful in strengthening the spine to prevent a recurrence and support the local area of the spine. In this type of injury often the small intrinsic muscles that stabilise the spine become very weak, and can no longer do their job very well. Targeted exercises can recover their strength and function and provide support.
For a long term solution working on global postural health is vital to maintain spinal health.