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How to identify a herniated disk and what are the main symptoms

The main symptom of a herniated disk is pain in the spine that usually appears in the region where the hernia is located, and may be in the cervical, lumbar or thoracic spine, for example. In addition, the pain can follow the path of the nerves of the region, so it can even radiate to more distant places, reaching the legs or arms.

Other symptoms may occur due to a herniated disk, such as tingling, numbness, twinging or, in more severe cases, decreased force or urinary incontinence. However, it should be remembered that herniated disk does not always cause symptoms or may only cause mild discomfort.

A disc herniation arises when the intervertebral disk and its gelatinous center, which function as a kind of spinal shock, leave the correct place, causing the compression of nerves of the region. The treatment is done with medication to relieve the pain, physiotherapy or, in some cases, surgery. If you want to understand how a herniated disc is formed and how to treat it, check out the following article: All you need to know about a herniated disk.

How to identify a herniated disk and what are the main symptoms

Main symptoms

The symptoms of a herniated disk vary according to its location, and the most common are:

1. Symptoms of cervical disk herniation

In this type, the pain is located in the upper part of the spine, more specifically in the neck. Compression of the nerve can cause pain to radiate to the shoulder or arm. Other symptoms include:

  • Difficulty in making movements with the neck;
  • Sensation of numbness or tingling in the shoulder, arm, elbow, hand or fingers;
  • Decrease in strength in one arm.

Symptoms of herniated disk may be different from one individual to another as it depends on its location and intensity of compression. These symptoms may suddenly appear, disappear spontaneously, and return at unpredictable intervals. But they can also be constant and long lasting.

2. Symptoms of lumbar disc herniation

When this type of hernia happens it is common for you to feel intense back pain. But other symptoms are:

  • Pain along the path of the sciatic nerve that runs from the spine to the buttock, thigh, leg and heel;
  • There may be weakness in the legs;
  • Difficulty in raising your foot leaving the heel on the floor;
  • Changes in bowel or bladder function because of nerve compression.

The amount and intensity of symptoms depends on the location and intensity of nerve involvement. Generally, loss of strength indicates severe changes and should be quickly evaluated by an orthopedist or neurosurgeon.

3. Symptoms of a thoracic herniated disk

A thoracic disk herniation is less common, occurring in only 5% of the cases, but when it arises it can cause:

  • Pain in the central region of the spine radiating to the ribs;
  • Pain in breathing or performing movements with the thorax;
  • Pain or changes in sensation in the belly, back or legs;
  • Urinary incontinence.

When these symptoms that may indicate herniated disk appear, it is recommended you seek an orthopedist or neurosurgeon to do an evaluation and ask for an x-ray, MRI, or spinal CT scan.

Depending on the outcome of the tests, the treatment can be done with physiotherapy or surgery, according to the needs of each person and the severity of the problem.

How to identify a herniated disk and what are the main symptoms

Who is most at risk of having a herniated disk

The main cause for the development of a herniated disk is progressive wearing of the intervertebral disks that lie between each two vertebrae of the spine. Therefore, this problem is more common in people over 45 due to the natural aging process.

In addition, disk hernias are also more frequent in workers who need to lift heavy objects often, such as construction workers. People who experience spinal trauma, who perform repetitive efforts without guidance or who suffer some inflammation or infection in the spine are also more likely to develop this type of problem.

How to prevent a herniated disk

Most cases of herniated disk are caused by your genetic predisposition, but their formation is also influenced by several factors, such as sedentary lifestyle and inadequate physical effort, such as making jerky movements incorrectly or lifting a lot of weight. Therefore, to prevent the formation of a herniated disc, it is important to:

  • Practice regular physical activities;
  • Do stretching and strengthening exercises of the abdomen muscles;
  • Maintain correct posture, especially when lifting heavy objects. It is recommended you lift heavy objects by bending your legs, to distribute the weight, preventing from it mainly be lifted by the spine;
  • Pay attention to proper posture while sleeping, sitting or standing for a long time.
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