Herniated Disc Causes and Risk Factors
Herniated discs are caused by aging, degeneration of the disc (disc disease) or injury to the spine. Disc disease may result from tiny tears or cracks in the outer capsule of the disc, called the annulus. The jelly-like material inside the disc (nucleus) may be forced out through the tears or cracks in the capsule. This causes the disc to bulge, break open or break into sections.
Disc disease may develop as part of the normal aging process. After about age 30, the nucleus of a spinal disc begins to lose its fluid content, becoming less springy and more easily injured. Herniated discs can affect people of all ages, but they are most common in people between 35 and 45 years old who perform heavy manual labor or drive motor vehicles for long periods of time. Herniated discs can occur anywhere in the spine, but most occur in the lower back or in the neck region.
Injury to the spine can occur from:
A sudden heavy strain or increased pressure to the lower back. Sometimes a sudden twisting movement or even a sneeze will force some of the jelly-like material inside the disc out through the disc's outer shell.
Activities that are done over and over again that may stress the lower back, including poor lifting habits, prolonged exposure to vibration or sports-related injuries
Herniated Disc Diagnosis
For patients with leg and back pain, the doctor may take a medical history and conduct a physical exam to determine whether symptoms might be caused by a herniated disc.
X-rays are generally not useful. However, if the doctor suspects that there is a more serious underlying condition (such as a tumor, infection or severe nerve damage), or if leg pain and other symptoms do not get better after two to four weeks of nonsurgical treatment, X-rays may be taken. Electromyography (EMG) can be used to diagnose certain nerve and muscle disorders and may be done for people who have signs of prolonged pressure on a nerve root....