Many of my treating clients contact my office saying that their MRI has revealed a herniated disc or disc bulge. Many still remain confused what these terms mean and their treatment options. Below is an MRI that hopefully gives you a better idea of what your doctors are looking at when telling you that you have a disc issue.
What is a Disc
Your spine is made up of many vertebrae that run from your neck to the base of your backside. The discs are the space in between each vertebrae and are comprised of a tough exterior, filled inside with a gel like substance. Each disc acts like a cushion and in the above picture you can clearly see 5 discs (darker, smaller blocks) that separate the vertebrae.
What is a Disc Herniation
The simplest way of describing a herniation is when the disc ruptures and the gel like material exits the actual space. The material leaks into the nearby spinal area causing the nerves to irritate, inflame and cause pain. In other cases the pain may radiate to different areas of the body depending on the location of the herniation.
Other Types of Disc Injuries
Often times an MRI may reveal disc bulges, disc protrusions or slipped discs. Like a herniation, these are serious spinal disc injuries where the discs are not in there proper alignment. In the case of disc bulges or protrusions, the disc moves outside its alignment without rupture, which in turn causes pain by irritating the nearby nerves and in more extreme cases causes pain to radiate into different areas of the body.
Treatment for Disc Injuries
A serious disc injury requires the existence of pain before treatment options are available. Treatment options include chiropractic adjustments, physical therapy, pain medication and epidural injections. Epidural injections are typically administered in a series of three where medicine is administered near the site of the herniation, bulge or protrusion. These injections are only temporary in nature and can provide pain relief for a few days up to a few years.
Surgery as Last Resort
Conservative treatment options such as chiropractic adjustments, physical therapy, and epidural injections are known to resolve disc injuries. These should always be exhausted before contemplating surgery. Typically an orthopedic surgeon will determine if surgery is needed. He or she will look at your prior treatment history and if any relief was obtained. New MRIs may also be done to ensure to see if your situation has worsened. Finally, and only as a last resort, a surgery will be recommended, which at the end of the day will be your decision to make. Unfortunately, surgery does not guarantee that the pain will go away, but should be seriously considered to treat your disc injury.