Herniated Disc vs. Spinal Stenosis

Everyone will deal with back pain at one point or another in their lives, and when you think about it, it is not really a surprise. Our spines have a staggering number of moving parts, all in close proximity to the brain’s main connection to the rest of our bodies. The spine is a mass of bone, cartilage, nerves, and other tissue, and that means there is no space for any of the pieces to get out of alignment or wear down. In a perfect world, every part of everyone’s spine would stay in place. However, that is not the case, and when anything in the spine is troubled, you feel it. The discomfort can be strong enough to shrink your abilities, activities, and therefore your life. That is why we are here.

When we chose to dedicate our precious time to studying and healing the spine, we chose a great subject because there is always more to learn. It does not matter what you’re doing; your spine is part of it. With all the ways we tend to contort, twist, push, and pull our bodies, it is actually amazing that our spines do as well as they do for as long as they do. When the spine is not happy, nobody is happy, and that is why we are so passionate about discovering ways to relieve the spine so our patients can dive back into life. Even better, we continue to be dedicated to providing non-invasive solutions because fast recovery and fewer complications are very important.

In our years of treating back issues of all kinds, we have noticed that there is a good deal of ambiguity around herniated discs and spinal stenosis. People do not fully understand the differences between the two, which makes it difficult to pursue the correct treatment from professionals. Not only that, misunderstanding what is happening in your back affects the way you treat it each day, which may lead to you making the problem worse while thinking you are making it better. Today, we want to explore herniated discs and spinal stenosis in order to bring some clarity to them. Read on!

Herniated Discs 101

Your spine has 33 individual bones that all need to work together peacefully. When they fail to do this, you experience serious pain, nerve issues, and even paralysis.

When you have a bunch bones that need to come together and form joints, there are some special extra parts required to make it work. One such crucial part is a disc. It acts as a pillow between bones, absorbing shocks and preventing the bones from touching or pinching the nerves that run between them. It can take quite a beating because it features a very tough exterior made of concentric sheets of collagen fibers. Its core has loose fibers suspended in a mucoprotein gel, allowing it to flex, compress, and move with the bones around it while staying in place. You have 23 such discs between the vertebrae in your back, working right now to keep you comfortable and functional.

So what does it mean when a disc is “herniated?” Well, as a general term, “herniated” means “to protrude abnormally from an enclosed cavity or from the body.” When a disc gets old or takes just a bit too much of a beating, its hard shell gets damaged, and the soft nucleus starts to seep through weak points. The disc can no longer fulfill its function and generally will start to protrude into its surroundings. That is why you will hear a herniated disc also called “slipped” or “ruptured.”

As we mentioned before, there is no room in the spine for any part to be out of alignment. When a disc stops padding a joint and instead bulges out into the surrounding space, it does not matter what it hits; it is bad. Herniated discs press against nerves, important tissues, and impede your spine’s ability to distribute weight correctly. If nerves are affected, you’ll experience pain, sciatica, muscle spasms, or leg weakness. If the disc presses against your cauda equina nerve bundle, you can lose control of your entire lower body, leading to incontinence and loss of feeling. This is one of the most serious symptoms of a slipped disc and should be addressed immediately by emergency medical personnel.

How Do We Treat Herniated Discs?

The good news here is that herniated discs don’t generally require surgery. As long as you are not experiencing the drastic symptoms we just mentioned, the first treatment for a herniated disc is to get the inflammation down and give the body a chance to help itself out. Pain medications and anti-inflammatories will become your best friends, and you will probably need hot and cold compresses, special exercises, and even a steroid injection to bring the inflammation down. Our experts will do everything they can to provide you with the tools you need to help your body.

If the pain will not subside, we have more good news for you: you don’t need to undergo a serious operation. Instead, we can perform an endoscopic discectomy, which uses a tiny incision about one-fourth of an inch long to carefully access the troubled disc with an endoscope and camera. This operation allows the surgeon to understand just what is going on and does not even require general anesthesia.

Spinal Stenosis 101

While a hernia involves something busting outward into space it does not belong, “stenosis” is almost the complete opposite. The term “stenosis” refers to the narrowing of a body channel in a way that is not normal. When the channel of bone that shields your spinal cord shrinks down, it is called “spinal stenosis,” and it can show up anywhere along the spine. Some people are born with it, but for many people, it starts to happen as they get older and their spines deteriorate.

When the spinal cord starts to get compressed by the bones that are supposed to protect it, you will feel it. Many people experience numbness, weakness, and pins-and needles when stenosis occurs in their lumbar (lower) spine. If stenosis occurs in your mid-back, you’ll feel pain in your internal organs, back, and ribs. If stenosis shows up in your upper back, it can lead to paralysis. That is why we recommend that anyone feeling the symptoms of spinal stenosis get medical treatment as soon as possible. It is better to have cried wolf and be okay than assume the problem isn’t serious and have to live with difficult issues.

How Do We Treat Spinal Stenosis?

As with most spinal issues, the first things to do is try to calm things down with muscle relaxers, painkillers, compresses, massage, and steroid injections. If the pain persists, we can perform an endoscopic foraminalplasty, a procedure that only requires a half-inch incision and conscious sedation. This is an incredible alternative to other spinal stenosis treatment that requires large incisions and all the risks that come with general anesthesia.

How Can You Prevent Spinal Stenosis and Herniated Discs?

The best cure is prevention, and the team at the Spine Institute of North America team does all we can to help people avoid herniated discs and spinal stenosis in the first place. It’s important to understand that your back wears out as you get older, and the more you do to maintain a durable spine, the longer it will last. Here are some great things you can do:

  • Stay physically active. This helps your spine stay flexible and strengthens your back and abdominal muscles, which gives your spine extra support.
  • Manage your weight. The more weight you carry, the more strain your spine has to manage, and the sooner it will have troubles.
  • Play smart. High impact sports like football, hockey, and gymnastics commonly cause spinal injuries, so it is a good idea to pursue activities that don’t slam your spine, like yoga, swimming, and walking.

There are many ways the spine can start to break down or have trouble, and we are fortunate to live in an age where we can actually understand what is going on underneath the skin. That being said, many of the patients we meet with in New Jersey are practically at the ends of their ropes. Determining the cause of back pain can be a very confusing, contradictory, and frustrating journey for patients, who can end up bouncing from specialist to specialist in an exhausting quest for relief.

At the Spine Institute of North America, we are equipped to get to the root of the problem because all of our processes are designed to carefully, thoroughly, and effectively identify and treat back issues. We settle for nothing less than absolute clarity. When you turn to us for treatment, you get access to a world-class team of professionals who not only understand the spine in all of its complexity but also have a passion for preserving your health and comfort. If you feel like your back issue cannot be solved, it’s time to give us a call. Make an appointment with us in New Jersey today!

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