The 2014 Winter Olympics have been a wonderful display of determination, speed, strength, agility and athletic performance. As the athletes pushed their bodies to the limits, injuries inevitably occurred. Disc herniations were one common injury that plagued athletes. Craig Pickering (Great Britain, bobsled), Evgeni Plushenko (Russia, figure skating), Henrik Zetterberg ( Sweden, ice hockey), and Brendan Green (Canada, biathlon) all experienced disc herniations, which in most cases prevented them from competing in the games.
The spine is composed of 24 bones (vertebrae) that are stacked on top of one another. A small disc is located between each vertebra and acts as a cushion and shock absorber. These discs have a tough outer layer called the annulus that surrounds a jelly-like substance called the nucleus.
A disc herniation begins when wear and tear or a sudden injury causes the jelly substance to push against the tough outer layer. If severely injured, the nucleus can break or herniate through the outer layer. Since there is limited space in the spinal column, the herniated disc can press on the spinal nerve causing pain.
1) Sudden unexpected load: traumatic situations such as a motor vehicle accident, lifting and twisting, or a fall. Any sudden event that cause an unexpected load to the disc may result in disc herniation.
2) Accumulated micro trauma: repeated micro injury to the disc over a period of time can result in disc herniation. For example, poor posture when sitting, standing and working can cause over stretching and weakness of the outer layer of the disc. Over time this weakens the disc and increases the risk of the nucleus herniating.
Symptoms of disc herniation can include one or all of the following:
-leg and/or foot pain
-weakness in leg or foot
-numbness or tingling sensation in leg or foot
-loss of bowl or bladder control: this is very rare but may indicate a more serious condition called caudal equine syndrome. Immediate medical attention is required.
Your doctor or physiotherapist will suspect a disc herniation based on your symptoms and the history of your injury. A physiotherapist can perform clinical tests to determine if there is disc injury and nerve compression. MRI and CT scans are the most accurate diagnostic tests to confirm disc herniation.
Conservative treatment is appropriate for minor and moderate disc herniations. Physiotherapy treatment can include a variety of methods such as ice therapy, traction, electrotherapy, taping techniques, soft tissue massage, acupuncture, joint mobilization, postural advice and home exercise program. More serious cases may require surgical intervention.
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