The spine is composed of a series of interconnected bones or vertebrae. In between each pair of vertebrae is a spongy disc that helps the spine stay flexible and mobile while also providing shock absorption when walking, running and performing other impact activities. Discs have a tough outer layer called the annulus fibrosus and a gel-like interior called the nucleus pulposus. Sometimes, a disc will slip out of its normal position and extend over the edge of the vertebrae. As the spine flexes and moves, this portion of the disc becomes pinched or herniated. When pressure on the disc is extreme, the bulge can grow and press on surrounding tissues including the nerves as they exit that area of the spine. Over time, the disc can rupture and the gel-like interior material can leak out, increasing irritation and inflammation of the nerves and surrounding tissues.
Several issues can cause herniated and ruptured discs, including:
Herniated discs can cause pain and numbness in the lower back as well as pain, burning or tingling sensations, and numbness extending into the buttocks and legs. Sometimes, muscles can feel tired or fatigued. Symptoms are usually worse when sitting or lying down, and many people with sciatica find it difficult to sleep when symptoms are flaring up.
Very mild symptoms may resolve over time with rest, ice and gentle stretching exercises aimed at easing the disc back into its normal position so nerve irritation and compression are relieved. Patients with moderate to severe symptoms and those who have persistent or recurring symptoms often find relief with injections aimed at reducing pain or blocking nerve signals associated with pain, combined with medications aimed at reducing inflammation.
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