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A herniated disk is an annoying but usually benign disorder of the spine. Symptoms vary, as do treatment options. Prevention or at least risk reduction may also be possible, although it is first necessary to understand the most common causes of the condition.
Disks are actually a pad-like masses of fibrous tissue that are located between the vertebrae, which are the bones that comprise the spinal column. At a younger age, the disks are pliable, and they can usually survive all but the harshest treatment. However, the disks gradually solidify as a person grows older, and the general wearing out that comes with age will often lead to a herniated condition.
The actual physiological process of herniation starts with the the development of tiny cracks in the disk. The disk will then begin to bulge, and will occasionally rupture. Some of the fluid in the disk, material known as the nucleus, may then seep out and leak into the cracks that have formed. The bulging of the disk and its interference with nerves than run through the area is what causes the pain that often accompanies a herniated condition.
A herniation may also result from an injury that causes cracks or tears in the outer layer of the membrane, and which may or may not be in conjunction with age degeneration. A fall or the application of a sudden twisting force will often precipitate a herniated disk. In addition to age and injury, back surgery can disrupt the spine and lead to a herniation later in a person’s life. Men are also more susceptible to the condition.
Factors that can increase the risk of developing a herniated disk are primarily related to one’s personal health and work habits. Obesity can place a heavy burden on the spine and increase the chances of a herniation, as can inadequate exercise. Nicotine and other toxins that come from tobacco products can also increase the possibility of disk problems. Other risk factors include work that involves sitting for long periods or lifting heavy loads.
The treatment of a herniated disk can range from exercise to the use of pain-relieving medications. Surgery is employed in about 10 percent of the cases. The good news is that the condition normally wanes without major intervention, and most who experience a herniated disk will recover within six months.