Health in Focus: Herniated Discs

A herniated disc can cause pain, numbness or weakness in an arm of a leg, but there are plenty of treatments designed to help.

Board-Certified Neurosurgeon Dr. Jay Jagannathan, with Jagannathan Neurosurgery, describes how this condition happens and potential treatment options.

“The disc is the material that is in between the vertebrae,” Jagannathan says. “It is usually composed of fluid that is surrounded by tissue, fibrous tissue that allows the spine to keep its flexibility. In some cases due to abnormal movements or related to smoking and other factors, the covering around the disc can get weak and the disc can herniate outward.”

In some cases, this can cause pressure on the nerve.

Jagannathan says doctors typically start patients on “conservative,” non-invasive treatments like bed-rest or analgesics, which is medication to control pain.

Physical therapy also plays a huge roll with lifestyle modifications like weight loss and quitting smoking.

“There are studies that show a disc herniation can improve with time if it is treated conservatively,” Jagannathan says. “But often times patients have pain during that time, and it is important to control the pain while that disc is healing. If it doesn’t work, we go to surgical treatments which would involve going in and taking out the disc that is herniated.”

Pain is a common symptom of herniated discs, but in severe cases, pain can also cause weakness.

Jagannathan says this is a sign of a medical emergency.

“It has to be addressed, because even with successful surgery weakness is not guaranteed to improve,” Jagannathan says.

Also in severe cases, the nerves that control the bladder and bowl function can get infected.

“Those are normally symptoms of fairly advanced discs and those are discs that need to be treated fairly emergently in those cases,” Jagannathan says.

But the vast majority of herniated discs can be treated without surgery, he says.

For cases where surgery is the next step, Jagannathan says technology has improved to encourage healing faster.

“It’s an important thing to know is we now have minimally invasive surgery, where we can go in using a microscopic technique going in about two centimeters to remove the disc,” he says. “But more commonly now with endoscope, which is a camera you can go in and remove the disc with just a few millimeters.”

For more health information, contact Jagannathan Neurosurgery for neurosurgery, neurology and interventional pain management.

Northern Michigan: 989-701-2538

Upper Peninsula: 906-253-1341

Southeast Michigan: 248-792-6527

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