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Can a Herniated Disc Cause Permanent Nerve Damage?


Most of the time, pain associated with a herniated disc does go away, usually within a matter of months after the initial onset of symptoms. But there are some instances when nerve damage related to a herniated disc could become permanent. However, this risk can be minimized if patients seek treatment as soon as possible. This article discusses essential facts about herniated discs and the possibility of more significant nerve damage.

When Permanent Nerve Damage Is More Likely

The risk of permanent nerve damage is greater if nerve compression continues for a long period of time. This can happen if the herniated disc consistently applies enough pressure to severely damage the nerve or series of nerves within the affected area. Ongoing pressure can gradually affect how a nerve functions, to the point where healing and recovery are more difficult. Permanent nerve damage could also occur if a
herniated disc compresses the spinal canal and the sack of nerve roots referred to as the cauda equina.

Possible Issues Related to Permanent Nerve Damage

Long-term or permanent nerve damage stemming from a herniated disc could affect your life in many ways. If the bulging disc causes irritation to an adjacent nerve for a long period of time, it could cause issues such as:

• A loss of sensation within the affected area
• Recurring numbness and tingling sensations
• Decreased mobility and balance
• Reduced sensation in the hips, legs, and feet

If nerve damage related to a herniated disc becomes permanent or long-term, an issue known as
saddle anesthesia may also develop. This term, which is frequently associated with cauda equina syndrome, refers to a loss of sensation in the area just below the spine, which includes the buttocks and thighs. Longer-term nerve damage associated with disc herniation could also affect nerves that control bowel and bladder functions. If this happens, immediate medical attention is required.

Knowing When to See a Doctor

It is rare to experience long-term or permanent nerve damage because of a herniated disc. This risk can be further reduced by knowing when to see your doctor or a spine specialist. Take this step as soon as you notice ongoing or worsening issues that affect your daily quality of life. With a herniated disc, signs it is time to seek medical attention include:

• Noticeable discomfort in your back and nearby areas
• Numbness and tingling sensations associated with various movements
• General muscle weakness within the affected area
• Difficulty performing various daily tasks without discomfort

The Impact of Delaying Disc Herniation Treatment

In addition to the possibility of having permanent nerve damage, putting off treatment for a herniated disc can affect your life in other ways. For example, you may have difficulty completing work-related tasks. You could also have difficulty doing other things you normally enjoy, especially if you are usually active. It's also worth noting many patients with herniated disc pain respond well to early treatment efforts.

If you have a herniated disc that isn't responding to conservative treatment, a discectomy may be discussed and potentially recommended. Although this is generally a very successful back surgery procedure, having a large hole in the outer ring of the disc more than doubles the risk of needing another operation. A new treatment, Barricaid, is a bone-anchored device that closes this hole, and 95 percent of Barricaid patients didn’t undergo a reoperation due to reherniation in a 2-year study timeframe. This treatment is done immediately following the discectomy—during the same operation—and doesn’t require any additional incisions or time in the hospital. 

If you have any questions about the Barricaid treatment, ask your doctor or contact us at 844-288-7474.

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