Potential Complications of an Untreated Herniated Disc

Herniated discs go by different names: ruptured disc, slipped disc, and bulged disc. No matter what you call this back condition, it’s usually painful. 

Your back is composed of bones stacked on top of each other called vertebrae. You have 26 vertebrae, each separated and cushioned by a round gel-filled disc. A damaged disc is a herniated disc. Symptoms include pain, weakness, and tingling.

Orthopedic surgeon Douglas J. Abeles, MD, and our team diagnose and treat all types of back pain, including herniated discs. Here, we explain your treatment options and what happens if you opt not to seek treatment. 

What causes a herniated disc?

A herniated disc can result from a strain, injury, or degenerative wear-and-tear, or all of them together. As you get older, the outer layer of these gel-filled discs starts to deteriorate and is at higher risk of rupturing. 

A worn-out disc can rupture from a strain, like picking up a heavy object or an awkward movement. When it does rupture or tear, the gel seeps out and can put pressure on a nerve.

If the disc is located in your lower back — the most common area for herniated discs — you may feel pain and tingling radiating from your back down your leg. This condition is called sciatica. 

If the disc ruptures in your neck, you may feel the pain, tingling, and weakness in your arm and hand.

Herniated disc treatment options

Fortunately, not all herniated discs cause pain and problems, and many resolve on their own with rest. Those herniated discs that cause pain and discomfort can be treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, ice, rest, physical therapy, and, in some cases, a steroid injection.

For cases that are not resolved with noninvasive therapies, we may recommend surgery. Surgery is rarely necessary to treat a herniated disc, but when it is, the surgeon removes or trims the protruding disc to relieve pressure on the nerve.

Complications of an untreated herniated disc

Untreated herniated discs with symptoms can become more painful and debilitating as time goes on. 

You may also experience bladder and bowel dysfunction and saddle anesthesia, so-called because it affects the areas on your body that would touch a saddle if you were sitting on a horse.

Saddle anesthesia is a progressive loss of sensation in the inner thighs, back of legs, and the area around the rectum. 

Other complications of an untreated ruptured disc include trouble walking or standing.  

Are you experiencing back pain? If you think you might have a herniated disc, call our Castro Valley, California, office for an appointment, or request one online.

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