The spine is a layered system of vertebrae and soft discs with the spinal cord set in the middle. The vertebrae give the spine stability while the discs provide space and cushioning between the vertebrae. This layering allows the back to be flexible, and the discs behave as shock absorbers for the pressure placed on the spine.
Sometimes, these soft discs are compressed to the point where they add pressure to the nerves and spinal cord, causing pain. If those compressed, or herniated, discs are not treated properly, the discs can rupture. This is referred to as a prolapsed disc.
Like a collapsed disc, a prolapsed disc may or may not present hard symptoms beyond mild discomfort and the occasional sharp pain. Over time, however, they may manifest into the following:
- Weakness in the arms, hands, or legs
- Stiffness in the neck
- Shooting pain down the legs
- Lack of bowel control
- Difficulty sitting in one position for long periods of time
Medical imaging through a CT scan, MRI or X-ray machine can help accurately diagnose a prolapsed disc. A knowledgeable physician can review the symptoms, evaluate the medical imaging reports and prescribe an appropriate treatment plan.
There are many potential causes of prolapsed discs, which can include the following:
- Physically Strenuous Jobs
- Poor Posture
Untreated herniated or bulging discs and degenerative disc disease are also contributing factors to prolapsed discs.
Luckily, most cases of prolapsed discs do not require invasive medical treatment. Mild to moderate cases heal over four to six weeks, and severe cases are usually healed in 12 to 16 weeks.
Ibuprofen is the most common medication prescribed to relieve the pain from a prolapsed disc, but other oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be prescribed.
For severe cases, cortisone injections are used to relieve the pain, and physical therapy is often recommended to maintain mobility in the back. If motor functions are impacted, massage therapy is prescribed to loosen the muscles. Surgery is performed only when all other treatments have been exhausted and the prolapsed disc has not healed and is still causing extreme pain.
Back pain should never be ignored. A consultation with a doctor when the symptoms first appear can be the difference between a standard treatment program with a short recovery time and an intense therapy program with a longer healing period. Make an appointment soon if you’re experiencing chronic back pain.