Herniated disc: types, symptoms and treatments. Is there a cure?

Approximately 70% of the Brazilian population over 40 years old suffers from a spinal problem – among them, herniated discs . This disorder affects around 15% of the world population.

Considering the wide scope of this disease, we have separated some important information (causes, symptoms, treatments, etc.). Check it out below:

What is a herniated disc?

Our spine is composed of several vertebrae that contain, inside, a channel to pass the spinal or nerve cord. So, between the vertebrae (cervical, lumbar or thoracic) we have intervertebral discs.

The function of the discs is to protect the vertebrae from friction and cushion the impact. Therefore, due to time and excessive / improper use, these structures wear out.

From there, the herniated disc is formed. The process occurs as follows: part of the disc leaves the normal position and then compresses (squeezes / squeezes) the nerve endings that come from the spine.

The problem usually appears in the lumbar or cervical region – considering that they are constantly subject to movement and weight support. As a result, it is common for people to have back pain and more tenderness in the thigh, leg or foot.

Intervertebral disc: what is it?

We understand how herniated discs occur. However, it is worth clarifying what these very important structures are: the intervertebral discs.

Intervertebral discs have a ring shape and are made of cartilaginous tissue, so they are elastic / flexible . This part is the part that makes up the outside of the disc and it is it that facilitates flexion, extension and rotation movements of the trunk.

The inner part of this “ring” is called the pulpy nucleus (or viscous liquid). This is the part responsible for the damping and protection of daily pressures or kinks.

Types of herniated discs

Herniated discs can have three different types. They differ mainly in terms of the intensity of the injury. See, below, each of the types and their characteristics:

Protrusion

When the herniated disc is of the protruding type , it is a case in which the disc widens, but still keeps the gelatinous liquid at its center. In other words, it characterizes the beginning of the degeneration of the disc and begins to compromise its main functions (damping and flexibility).

In this case, the disc becomes more bulky and its outer part (cartilage) is wider than the normal diameter. So, this “excess” can touch areas with many nerve endings. As a result, pain and – in some cases – motor disabilities arise.

Extrusions

Extruded disc herniation is an orthopedic condition that occurs when the intervertebral disc ruptures. From there, the internal gelatinous content (pulpous nucleus) comes out through a fissure in the membrane.

That is, in this case the nucleus moves from its place of origin and compresses the nerve roots.

Kidnapped

When the herniated disc is characterized as hijacked , it is a very advanced case of the disease. In this condition, the wall of the disc breaks and the gelatinous liquid goes to the external environment (medullary canal), moving upwards or downwards.

Still, in addition to pressing nerve endings, it causes inflammation and continuous pressure. In this case, it is called the “chemical pain”, because the pulposus nucleus has acidic chemical properties, which cause very intense pain.

It is common for patients with herniated discs in a hijacked condition to maintain a curved posture – bending their bodies to find a less uncomfortable position.

What Causes Herniated Discs?

The spine is the structure responsible for the balance of the musculoskeletal system, stabilizes the human body and allows the distribution of forces to perform daily movements.

Mostly, problems in the spine are associated with hereditary predisposition.

External factors, such as spinal misalignment (poor posture) or trauma / injury, are also responsible for a large portion of the disorders, including herniated discs.

Despite this, there are also some other factors that can influence the onset of the disease, such as:

  • Smoke;
  • Obesity;
  • Advanced age (due to degenerative wear);
  • Sedentary lifestyle;
  • Repetitive actions (tilting or rotating the trunk frequently);
  • Standing or sitting for long periods of time (at work, for example);
  • Drive for long periods of time daily.

Thus, it is possible to pay attention to daily attitudes that can be crucial to prevent the onset of this pathology.

Symptoms

Herniated disc can manifest in the lumbar or cervical region. Although its main symptom is severe pain, there are some specific manifestations in each of the affected areas. Check out:

Cervical

When the hernia affects the cervical region, it affects the neck region. Therefore, the most common symptoms include pain in the region, difficulty moving the neck or raising the arms.

It may also be that, in some cases, there are headaches and tingling in your arms or hands at times.

Low back

Upon reaching the lower back, the hernia causes pain in the lower back or in the hip in general. The most common symptoms are pain in the affected region (usually in the lower part of the back) and difficulty making movements (getting down, getting up, turning around in bed).

In addition, some people may also experience pain in the thighs, legs or feet and numbness in the buttocks.

Finally, it is quite normal that at times there is a strong burning in the path of the sciatic nerve (goes from the spine to the feet).

Thoracic

The herniated disc of the thoracic region reaches the central part of the spine. Therefore, its most common symptoms are: pain in the central region of the back (causing pain in the ribs), pain when breathing or when performing movements with the chest.

Some people may also suffer from abdominal pain and even urinary and fecal incontinence (when the hernia is in the lower thoracic region).

How is the pain of those with herniated discs?

The herniated disc is caused by a partial or complete displacement of the nucleus pulposus (internal part of the intervertebral disc). This alteration can cause severe pain in the cervical (neck), thoracic or lumbar region. It is also common for patients to experience numbness or weakness in their arms or legs.

It is worth mentioning that, when presenting one or more symptoms, it is essential to seek a professional specialist – in order to make a correct diagnosis.

What are the treatments for herniated discs?

Treatments for herniated discs are almost always non-invasive. Medical indications generally include physical therapy and medication use – such as pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants. In some rarer cases, surgical interventions may be necessary.

Next, check out some of the possible treatments for this pathology:

Medications

In order to carry out an appropriate treatment for your problem, it is very important to carry out a medical follow-up. Thus, the professional will be able to indicate the most appropriate medication. Among the most common are:

  • Painkillers – such as Dipyrone , Paracetamol , Alivium Capsule , Doril ;
  • Anti-inflammatories – such as Nisulid , Nimesulide , Cimelide , Ketoprofen ;
  • Muscle relaxants – such as Miorrelax , Dorflex , Dolamin Flex , Nevralgex .

It is worth noting that self-medication is not recommended in any case.

Physiotherapy

Treatment with physical therapy is the most recommended for herniated discs and may vary according to the stage of the disease. In general, techniques such as:

  • Thermotherapy (change in body tissue temperature);
  • Pelvic inclinations;
  • Shrink the belly to activate the transverse muscle of the abdomen;
  • Gentle flexions of the head (in cases of cervical hernia);
  • Stretching ;
  • Massages;
  • Kinesiotherapy (movement therapy) for strength training, flexibility, coordination and balance.

It is essential to carry out a follow-up with a specialized professional, in order to carry out the most appropriate treatment for your case and do this safely.

Chiropractic

The chiropractic is a therapy that aims to treat disorders of the neuro-musculoskeletal system, including problems in the tendons, ligaments, etc. In cases of herniated discs, it is possible for the medical team to approve and recommend treatment with a chiropractor.

The treatment consists of performing maneuvers on the patient lying down or sitting on a stretcher or mat. Typically, sessions last 15 to 30 minutes and the amount required varies by case. Still, the session price can vary between R $ 100 and R $ 300.

Here are some of the benefits of the technique for the treatment of herniated discs:

  • It is effective in eliminating neurological symptoms that affect the lower limbs, such as tingling, numbness and weakness;
  • From the identification of problems in the spine, the chiropractic professional is able to make the necessary corrections;
  • It can be done on patients in different age groups;
  • It is often so effective that it does not require drug intervention.

To carry out chiropractic treatment , medical indication and clearance is essential.

Read more: Chiropractic: what it is, what it is for and values

Surgery

Surgery is indicated only in more severe cases of the disease. That is, when conventional treatments do not relieve symptoms (pain, movement limitations, etc.).

Thus, in order for the patient to have a good quality of life, the responsible medical team can recommend the surgical intervention.

There are two types of surgery: the first and most common is not very invasive, it consists only in removing the piece of disc that is compressing and causing inflammation in the nerve endings.

The second, indicated in rarer cases, is a larger operation in which the use of pins (screws) or other implants may be necessary.

It is worth mentioning that the surgery on the spine is very delicate, considering that an error can bring irreversible consequences. Therefore, it is only indicated as a last resort.

Is herniated disc curable?

In some cases, yes . There is a wide range of treatments available, however, not all people experience complete improvement.

This is because, in some cases, herniated discs can only be cured by a surgical procedure – which not all patients want or can perform. However, if the disease is identified in its early stages, the chances of a cure increase (being possible through non-invasive procedures).

Therefore, it is essential to follow up with specialized professionals (as) in order to monitor the progress of the disease and perform an appropriate and safe treatment.

In addition, even if the patient is not completely free of the disease, a treatment carried out correctly can provide a good quality of life. In fact, the disease often becomes asymptomatic (without symptoms).

When is a herniated disc severe?

The herniated disc can be considered as severe when it is of the “extruded” or “kidnapped” type. This is because, in these cases, the disc is already very or completely deformed, which increases inflammation and can cause the gelatinous liquid to come in contact with the spinal canal – causing severe pain.

Therefore, considering the progress of the disease, if not treated correctly, its symptoms also tend to increase. This can cause motor limitations and even incapacitation of some members.

What are the physical exercises for those with herniated discs?

In addition to being a good form of prevention for back problems, physical exercises can also be used by people with a disorder – such as a herniated disc.

Especially in relation to this disease, there are some more suitable exercises:

  • Stretching – improves the flexibility of the spine and muscles, reduces pain, provides gains in physical strength;
  • Aerobic activities – such as swimming, walking or cycling;
  • Hydrotherapy – is a type of physiotherapy in the water, helping to strengthen the muscles;
  • Pilates – improves posture, provides more muscle tone, increases flexibility and reduces pain.

It is worth mentioning that any of the exercises should always be practiced with the assistance of specialized professionals, in order to avoid injuries and bring improvements to the patient.

Read more: Pilates: What is it for?


Herniated disc is a very common disease, which affects millions of Brazilians every year. This disease can cause a lot of pain and even daily limitations, so when presenting any of the symptoms it is very important to seek medical help.

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