Intervertebral disc herniation or disc herniation is the most common cause of pain in both the upper and lower limbs.
In recent years, its occurrence is more often, as a consequence of modern lifestyle, which is characterized by lack of physical activity and sedentary lifestyle, as well as increased body weight due to poor nutrition.
What is the intervertebral disc?
Between the vertebrae (the bones of the spine) there are some “little cushions”, which are called intervertebral discs or simply discs.
They consist of an outside hard shell but their content is gelatinous, thanks to which they act as… “shock absorbers” of the spine, while allowing small movements that give us flexibility.
What is a disc herniation?
Intervertebral disc herniation or simply disc herniation is a condition in which part of the internal content of the disc “slips” into the spinal canal resulting in pressure or even complete entrapment of one or more nerves (roots).
What causes disc herniation?
In most cases, disc herniation is due to the gradual wear and tear of the discs because of aging, which we call degenerative disease or simply degeneration. As we get older, the discs lose some of their fluid content, become less elastic and therefore prone to injury. This degeneration occurs in some people earlier and in others later in life. The mechanisms that determine the rate of degeneration remain largely unknown but are thought to be linked to a combination of genetic and mechanical factors.
In most patients the problem starts with a minor injury and usually through the wrong use of muscle groups when lifting a weight. Less often it can be caused by a fall or direct spinal injury. In the neck, disc herniation can result from a car accident.
How dangerous is a disc herniation?
In general, disc herniation is a benign condition. However, in extreme cases it can cause permanent neurological damage with partial paralysis and loss of bladder and bowel control.
In particular, it can cause damage to the spinal cord in the neck along with gait and balance disturbances as well as disturbances in the coordination of movements.
What are the risk factors for the occurrence of disc herniation?
There are three key factors regarding the occurrence of an intervertebral disc herniation:
- Body Weight: The more our body weight increases, the more the mechanical stress of the discs increases, and in fact it affects the discs in the lumbar region of the spine.
- Profession: Jobs that require physical activity such as lifting, pushing or pulling heavy objects, frequent and prolonged twisting and bending of the waist, pose a higher risk of developing disc herniation. It is also more frequently observed in occupations where the spine is subjected to constant stress and minor injuries, such as drivers, pilots and flight attendants.
- Genetic factors: Scientists agree on the existence of a genetic mechanism that makes certain individuals prone to the disease. Unfortunately, it has not yet been revealed.
What should I do so as to avoid disc herniation?
There are three main factors that significantly decrease the possibility of an intervertebral disc herniation:
- Exercise: Strengthening the muscles of the waist stabilizes and supports the spine, unloading the discs.
- Proper body posture: Proper posture reduces pressure on the discs. We need to keep our waist straight, especially when sitting for a long time, and use our legs and not our waist to lift weights.
- Healthy body weight: Excess weight puts pressure on the spine and discs, increasing the chance of a herniation.