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Herniated Disk: all you need to know

A disk herniation is characterized by the bulging of the intervertebral disk, which can lead to symptoms such as back pain and burning sensation or numbness. It is most common in the cervical and lumbar spine, and can be treated with medication, physical therapy or surgery, and depending on its severity, can be completely cured.

A herniated disc can be classified according to the region of the spine that it affects and, therefore, can be called:

  • Cervical disc herniation: affects the neck region;
  • Thoracic disc herniation: affects the middle region of the back;
  • Lumbar disc herniation: affects the lower back region.

A vertebral disc is a fibrocartilage structure that helps to avoid direct contact between one vertebra and another, and dampen the impact generated by jumps, for example. So, a disc lesion, or discopathy, as this condition is also known, impairs the function of the vertebral disc itself and also presses other important structures of the spine, such as the nerve root or the spinal cord.

Herniated Disk: all you need to know

Types of herniated disk

The beginning of a disk injury can happen when you don't have a good posture, do weight lifting without bending your knees and do not drink about 2 liters of water a day. In theses causes a hernia may not have formed yet, but there is some damage to the hernia, it is not as thick as it should be, but still retains its original format: oval. If you do not improve your posture and habits in a few years, you will probably develop a herniated disc.

The hernia occurs when the vertebral disc loses its original shape, ceasing to be oval, forming a bulging, which is a kind of 'drop', that may press the root of the sciatic nerve, for example. So, the 3 types of herniated disc that exist are:

  • Disc Protrusion: is the most common type, it occurs when the disk nucleus remains intact, but there is some loss of it's oval shape;
  • Disc Extrusion: when the disc nucleus is deformed, forming a 'drop' shape;
  • Disc Sequestration: when the core is badly damaged and can even divide into two parts.

A person may have more than one herniated disk and it may increase in severity over time. Usually when you only have a dehydration of the disk, you do not notice any symptoms and only finds out if you do an MRI for some reason. The symptoms commonly arise when the hernia has already worsened and is in the protrusion stage.

The hernia should still be classified according to its exact location, and can be postero or posterolateral. A posterolateral disk herniation may press the nerve causing a tingling sensation, weakness, or loss of sensation in an arm or leg, but when there is a herniated disc posteriorly, the pressured region is the spinal cord and so you can present these symptoms in both arms or both legs, for example.

Symptoms of a herniated disk

The main symptom of a herniated disk is an intense pain in the region where it is, but it can also cause the following symptoms:

Cervical disk herniationLumbar disk herniation
Pain in the nape or the neck.Pain in the lower region of the back.
Difficulty in moving your neck or putting up your arms.Difficulty in moving, bending down, getting up or turning in bed, for example.
Sense of weakness, numbness or tingling sensation in the arms, elbows, hands or fingers.

Numbness in the glutes, and / or in the legs, in the back, front or inside of one of the legs.

---Burning sensation in the path of the sciatic nerve that goes from the spine to the feet.

The pain caused by the herniated disc usually worsens with movements and may be aggravated by coughing, laughter, and may worsen when you pee or defecate, it may appear suddenly or worsen over time.


The diagnosis of a herniated disc can be done through observation of the symptoms and a physical examination, but it can also be confirmed by tests, such as CT or MRI, to evaluate the disk, its thickness, the exact location of the hernia and what type of hernia you have.

An X-ray does not clearly show the hernia but may be sufficient to show the alignment of the spine and the integrity or destruction of the vertebrae and therefore, sometimes the doctor initially requests an X-ray and with the result of the X-ray, requests the resonance or tomography to assess severity.

When confirming that there is one or more disc hernias, the doctor may indicate treatment that can be done with physical therapy, Pilates, RPG, osteopathy, or surgery. Usually surgery is the last treatment option, being reserved for cases where you do not show improvement in symptoms with the other forms of treatment, for a period superior to 6 months.

What causes a disk hernia

The main cause for a herniated disc is poor posture in your day to day, and in not being careful when lifting and carrying very heavy objects. So it is common for people working as servants, painters, maids, drivers and masons to develop disc herniation or disc herniation around the age of 40.

About 10 years before discovering a herniated disc it is common for you to present symptoms like back pain that does not go away quickly. This is one of the first warning signs that the body shows, but is usually ignored, until the hernia in the spine arises.

Some factors that favor the installation of the hernia are aging, excess weight and inadequate physical effort, and therefore, for the success of the treatment it is important to eliminate all these factors.

Treatment for a disk hernia

When the treatment is performed correctly, the symptoms may disappear within 1 to 3 months, but each individual responds in his own way to treatment and therefore in some cases this period may be longer. For the success of the treatment it is important to know the exact location of the hernia and its type. The most common type, which is the disc protrusion, can be treated with:

  • Use of analgesics and anti-inflammatory drugs prescribed by the physician;
  • Physiotherapy sessions with equipment, stretches and individualized exercises;
  • Osteopathy consisting of popping the spine and realigning all bones and joints;
  • Exercises like RPG, hydrotherapy or Pilates guided by a physiotherapist.

During treatment it is recommended that you do not practice the activities that may have caused the hernia or doing any exertion or practice any type of physical activity.

Surgery for herniated discs is indicated when you have a herniated disc that has been extruded or sequestered and the clinical and physiotherapeutic treatment are not been enough to reduce the symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Herniated disk during pregnancy

If you have already been diagnosed with a herniated disc before becoming pregnant you should know that during pregnancy the herniated disc may worsen, causing severe back pain that may press the roots of the nerves, such as the sciatic nerve. When the sciatic nerve is affected the woman feels pain in here back, the buttocks or behind the thigh.

This happens because during pregnancy progesterone leads to increased loosening of all the ligaments in the body, and since the spine also has ligaments, they become more elastic and end up allowing the vertebrae to drain a little, which can aggravate or cause a herniated disc.

During pregnancy, no medication other than acetaminophen should be taken, so if you feel back or gluteal pain, you should lie down with her legs resting on a pillow, for example. Putting a warm patch where you feel pain can also relieve this discomfort.

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