If you’ve had a herniated disc before, you understand that it is a painful condition that’s best avoided in the first place. If you haven’t, take our word for it. Whatever the case, you want to understand whether you’re at risk for a herniated disc down the road.
To help, the team here at Texas Spine Consultants, including Michael Hennessy, MD, Andrew Park, MD, Chester Donnally, MD, Robert Viere, MD, and Heidi Lee, MD, reviews some of the primary culprits when it comes to risk factors for a herniated disc.
While there are some risks that are beyond your control and others that are not, any steps you take toward promoting better spine health can help you avoid a herniated disc.
A herniated disc explained
Your spine features 33 vertebrae, many of which are separated by 23 intervertebral discs that provide cushioning, support, and range of motion. The outside of each of the discs is called the annulus and it’s formed by tough cartilage. The annulus houses a soft, jelly-like substance called the nucleus pulposus, which provides the cushioning.
When a disc herniates, some of the outer disc materials and nucleus pulposus escape the space they normally occupy and irritate the sensitive nerve roots that exit your spinal canal. As a result, you’re left with pain, as well as symptoms like tingling and numbness that can radiate down the nerves and into your arms or legs, depending upon the location of the herniated disc.
In most cases, herniated discs occur in areas where your spine enjoys the most movement, namely your cervical spine (your neck) and your lumbar spine (your lower back).
The primary risk factors for herniated discs
The annual incidence of disc herniation is about 5-20 per 1,000 adults, usually between the ages of 30 and 50. There are many factors that place you more at risk for disc herniation, including:
Degenerative disc disease
Over time, the discs in your spine begin to degenerate and lose moisture, leaving them flatter and more brittle. Called degenerative disc disease (DDD), this condition occurs in most people as they age and can lead to herniation. DDD doesn’t always produce symptoms — in fact, disc degeneration is found in 96% of people aged 80 years old who don’t experience symptoms.
If you’re carrying too much weight, the added pressure can cause premature degeneration in your discs, which makes them more susceptible to disc herniation.
Men are twice as likely to develop a lumbar herniated disc than women.
If you work in a field in which you place added stress on your lower back or neck, you’re more vulnerable to disc herniation.
Using tobacco limits blood flow to your discs, which can lead to premature degeneration and slower healing.
Addressing your risks
While there’s little that you can do about age and gender, you can still take steps to better support your spine through targeted back and neck strengthening exercises. By building more supportive muscles in these areas, you can reduce some of the workload on your discs.
As for the risk factors you can address directly, losing weight and quitting smoking are not only great steps toward preventing a herniated disc, they will benefit your overall health in almost innumerable ways.
If you’d like more information about your risks for a herniated disc, please contact one of our offices in Addison or Plano, Texas, to schedule a consultation today.