The spine is made up of individual bones, the vertebrae, separated from each other by a disc to provide insulation and cushioning. Disc herniation, or a slipped disc, occurs when the interior area of the disc breaks through the outer area of the disc, and pushes into the spinal canal, or when the entire disc becomes displaced from its normal positioning. Disc herniation occurs most commonly in the neck area, and in the lower back, and can be a result of wear-and-tear from aging or from trauma.
Problems due to disc herniation occur because the displaced disc presses on the spinal cord or the nerves leaving the spinal cord. This can result in problems ranging from tingling in the hands, feet, or buttocks; weakness of a limb; back, leg, or arm pain; loss of bladder control; loss of normal reflexes (for example, normally tapping the knee with an exam hammer results in an involuntary kicking out the foot; disc herniation may make it impossible to elicit this foot kick, as well as other reflexes); or in very extreme cases, paralysis.
Cases of disc herniation with less extreme symptomatology can be treated with such measures as a neck brace or back brace, medications to reduce swelling (nerve roots experiencing pressure from the protruding disc may swell, further compromising their function), heat, and pain medications. When pain is untreatable, or loss of function is severe or progressive, surgery may be required to relieve or halt further progression of the symptoms.
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