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Can You Tell How Old a Herniated Disc Is?


11.3 - Can You Tell How Old a Herniated Disc Is-min

Is It Possible to Estimate the Age of a Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc is a common condition that affects many people, especially as they age. It occurs when the soft inner material of a disc in the spine bulges out through a tear or weakness in the outer layer. This can cause pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in the back, neck, arms, or legs.

But how can you tell how old a herniated disc is? Is it possible to determine when the disc injury occurred and how long it has been affecting you? This article will explore some of the factors that can help your doctor estimate the age of a herniated disc and why it matters for your treatment options.

Symptoms of a Herniated Disc

One of the first clues to the age of a herniated disc is the type and severity of symptoms you experience. Generally speaking, acute disc herniations tend to cause more intense and localized pain, while chronic disc herniations tend to cause more diffuse and mild pain.

Acute disc herniations are those that occur suddenly, usually as a result of trauma, lifting, twisting, or bending. They can cause severe pain that radiates along the nerve that is compressed by the disc material. The pain may be accompanied by muscle spasms, inflammation, and reduced range of motion. Acute disc herniations usually last for a few weeks to months and may resolve on their own or with conservative treatments such as rest, ice, heat, anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, or steroid injections.

Chronic disc herniations are those that develop gradually over time, usually as a result of aging, degeneration, or wear and tear. They can cause mild to moderate pain that is more widespread and less specific. The pain may be intermittent or constant and may vary depending on your posture, activity level, or weather. Chronic disc herniations may last for months to years and may require more aggressive treatment such as surgery if they do not respond to conservative measures.

Some of the major factors that affect herniated disc aging include:

  • Age of patient – The age of a herniated disc can be linked to the individual’s age. As we age, the discs in our spine naturally degenerate, becoming less flexible and more prone to injury. This degeneration can make herniated discs more common in older individuals.
  • Severity of injury – The age of a herniated disc can also be influenced by the severity of the initial injury. Acute trauma or a sudden force can lead to the disc herniation, making it relatively “young.” Conversely, a disc that has gradually degenerated and herniated over time might be considered “older.”
  • Activity level – Physical activity plays a significant role in disc health. High-impact activities and lifting heavy objects can contribute to disc wear and tear, potentially aging a disc prematurely.
  • Genetics – Genetic factors can also influence the age of a herniated disc. Some individuals may be genetically predisposed to disc degeneration, making them more susceptible to herniated discs at a younger age.

Imaging Tests for a Herniated Disc

Another way to estimate the age of a herniated disc is to undergo imaging tests such as X-rays, MRI, or CT scans. These tests can show the size, shape, location, and extent of the disc herniation and how it affects the surrounding structures, such as the spinal cord, nerves, bones, muscles, and ligaments.

However, imaging tests are not always accurate or reliable in determining the age of a herniated disc. Even if a herniation appears on the image, not all disc herniations will cause symptoms or require treatment. Some people may have asymptomatic disc herniations that do not bother them at all. Conversely, imaging tests may not capture the dynamic changes that occur in the disc over time. For example, a disc herniation may shrink or reabsorb as part of the natural healing process, or it may enlarge or migrate due to further injury or inflammation.

Therefore, imaging tests should be interpreted in conjunction with your medical history, physical examination, and symptom pattern. Your doctor will use all this information to make an informed diagnosis and recommend the best course of treatment for your condition.

Implications for Treatment and Management

Understanding the age of a herniated disc can have important implications for treatment and management:

  • Conservative treatments – Younger herniated discs may respond well to conservative treatments such as physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and lifestyle modifications. These treatments aim to alleviate symptoms and promote natural healing.
  • Surgical intervention – Older, more degenerated discs may require surgical intervention. Procedures like discectomy or spinal fusion may be necessary to address the condition and provide long-term relief.
  • Emergent cases – In some cases, a violent rupture may lead to instantaneous pain and severe discomfort. In these cases, even though the injury is brand new, rapid medical intervention is usually required.
  • Preventive measures – Knowing the age of a herniated disc can guide preventive measures. Younger individuals may benefit from adopting strategies to prevent further injury, while older individuals may focus on managing symptoms and maintaining spinal health.

Ultimately, the age of a herniated disc is not the only factor that determines your treatment options. Your overall health, lifestyle, preferences, and goals are also important considerations. Your doctor will work with you to create a personalized treatment plan that suits your needs and expectations.

If you have a herniated disc that is not responding to conservative treatment, a discectomy or less invasive microdiscectomy may be discussed and potentially recommended. Discectomy recovery time varies among individuals and depends on factors such as whether the patient has a large hole in the outer ring of the disc after surgery. Although discectomy 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 did not 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 does not 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 844-705-1081.

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