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Preventing and Managing Disc Herniation: The Role of Discectomy

People who have experienced constant pain and discomfort due to disc herniation will know how disabling it can be. Lumbar disc herniation is one of the most common causes of sciatica, or leg pain along the sciatic nerve which is experienced by some people during their lifetime. A herniated disc is an injury of the spine, which is the row of vertebrae that forms the backbone. Between these vertebrae are round cushions which are called discs. These discs act as buffers between the vertebrae bones, allowing an individual to bend and move with ease. When one of these discs ruptures or tears, it is called a herniation or a herniated disc. Lumbar disc herniation causes a lot of symptoms that can prevent the individual from engaging in their normal daily activities and responsibilities.

lumbar disc herniation
Picture courtesy: Spine & Rehab Group

What are the ways through which disc herniation can be prevented?

While it may not be possible to prevent disc herniation, there are some ways that an individual could use to reduce their risk of getting it. These include:

Maintaining a healthy weight 

This is important not only for the prevention of herniation, it is also crucial for the overall well-being of an individual. Excess weight adds stress to the lumbar region of the spine, which carries most of the weight of the body. This excess stress increases the risk of herniation. Excess weight may also have an impact on the treatment of the disc, as some surgeons prefer to have surgery for a herniated disc on patients that are not obese. This is because it has been demonstrated that obesity raises the risk of problems after ruptured disc surgery.

Having good posture 

It is crucial to practice good posture in every situation; walking, standing, sitting, or even when sleeping. Good posture keeps the bones and joints properly aligned, which goes a long way in preventing excess wear and tear that can lead to painful spinal conditions like disc herniation. In order to practice good posture, a person must stand up straight, sit with feet flat on the ground or elevated, and sleep on a firm mattress on the back or side not on the stomach.

Quitting smoking 

Individuals that smoke have an increased risk of disc herniation due to an accelerated rate of disc degeneration and spinal instability. Smoking has been linked to constriction of blood vessels which can cause decreased oxygen supply to the lumbar discs, which can lead to a more rapid degeneration that would occur naturally. In addition to this, when smokers undergo surgery for herniated discs, they are more at risk for the complications that follow surgery, as well as recurrence of the herniation.

Using proper lifting techniques 

This is a crucial step in the prevention of herniated discs. Always avoid bending at the waist with your knees straight when lifting particularly big objects, and lifting anything substantial above the waist. Twisting when lifting anything heavy can also increase the risk of lumbar disc herniation and make the back more vulnerable.

Staying active 

Staying active and maintaining an active lifestyle is not just recommended for general health. It is also excellent for herniated disc prevention. Regular exercise keeps the muscles strong and flexible, helping in the prevention of injury and pain. Regular exercise and aerobics reduce the risk, as opposed to a sedentary lifestyle which can lead to weak muscles which contribute massively to disc herniation.

Stretching often and improving the core strength 

Stretching helps prevent the tensing up of muscles, especially after long periods of inactivity. Low-impact stretching programs like yoga can also help work stretches into the daily routine. Engaging in exercises that help improve the core strength of the abdominal, back extensor, and rotator muscle groups can also help prevent the risk of disc injuries. The stronger the core, the less load the disc sees with daily activities. This will reduce the risk of disc herniation.

Preventing and Managing Disc Herniation- The Role of Discectomy- exercises
Picture courtesy: ar.javamem.com

Athletes should be very cautious of disc herniation as they are considered high-risk due to the frequent stresses the sports they participate in exert on the lumbar spine. Some necessary precautions to help manage this risk include stretching and warming up before playing sports, using proper equipment, and adopting a healthy lifestyle.

How is a herniated disc diagnosed?

This is done after a thorough examination by a healthcare provider. They will assess the pain level, muscle reflexes, sensation, and muscle strength. Some tests may be requested as well. These may include:

What is the best treatment for slipped discs?

Some of the treatments that a healthcare provider might recommend include:

  • Medication – This may be in the form of anti-inflammatory medication, pain relievers, or muscle relaxants.
  • Physical therapy – This comes in the form of exercise programs that are taught to the patient for them to relieve the pressure on the nerves. Exercise loosens tight muscles and helps in improving circulation.
  • Spinal injections – These are called epidurals or nerve blocks. It is a shot of steroid medication that is injected directly into the spine. It helps in reducing the swelling and inflammation of the nerve from the disc herniation. This helps the body in healing faster and return to normal activities.
  • Surgery – In rare cases, large herniated discs may cause injuries to nerves of the bladder or bowel. This will most likely lead to emergency surgery. In non-emergency cases, surgery is only an option where other conservative treatments fail. There are many ways to perform spine decompression surgery including discectomy, but the goal of all of them is to relieve the pressure on the nerves.

What type of surgery is used for managing herniated discs?

Herniated discs usually get better on their own over time with non-surgical treatments in the majority of people. If these other treatments do not work, the healthcare provider will then recommend surgery. There are different ways of carrying out the surgery for herniated discs, and they include:

  • Discectomy – This is the surgery to remove the herniated discs.
Preventing and Managing Disc Herniation- The Role of Discectomy- discectomy
Picture courtesy: NU-Spine
  • Laminectomy – This is the surgery done to remove part of the bone around the herniated disc and expand the spinal canal.
  • Artificial disc surgery – This is done to replace a damaged disc with an artificial one.
  • Spinal fusion – This is where the surgeon directly joins two or more vertebrae together to make the spine more stable.

The information provided in this blog is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical consultation, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making any decisions regarding your health. Read more

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