Over the past few months in our Martinsville chiropractic office, we have noticed an uptick in patients calling with complaints of sciatica and herniated discs. Many times, patients will use the words interchangeably as they are not exactly sure what each means.
Luckily for you (but not me) I have experience with both sciatica and herniated discs so I understand what each is, how they feel, and how to know what the difference between the two actually is.
What Is A Herniated Disc?
A herniated disc is when the inside of the spinal disc protrudes outside of its normal space and can cause symptoms such as back pain, leg pain, numbness, tingling, and even muscle weakness.
To understand what a herniated disc really is, it’s a good idea to understand the anatomy of the disc and where they are located.
As you can see, the spine is simply bones stacked on one another, connected by the spinal joints. Between each bone, we have ‘shock absorbers’ called spinal discs. Each level of the spine has a spinal disc in between them.
A spinal disc is made up of two parts, the annulus and nucleus pulposis.
The easiest way to understand the anatomy of spinal disc is by looking at a jelly donut.
The jelly inside the donut is the nucleus pulposis.
The actual donut is the annulus.
And to understand what happens when someone has a disc herniation, just think about the jelly coming out of the donut.
Pretty simple, right?
A herniated disc is just a diagnosis. It does nothing to describe your pain or symptoms. This is the main difference between a herniated disc and sciatica which we will get to later in this article.
What Is Sciatica?
Sciatica is a symptom of pain, tightness, numbness, or discomfort that comes directly from sciatic nerve irritation or injury.
The sciatic nerve actually starts in the lower back as individual spinal nerves and the nerves come together to form the sciatic nerve.
In many cases, a herniated disc can cause sciatica, but not always. This is why it’s so important to seek professional help, like Strive2Move, where we can help diagnose where your sciatica symptoms are coming from. They could be coming from a disc herniation, from a tight piriformis muscle, or even an old hamstring injury that has healed and compressed the sciatic nerve.
The Difference Between a Herniated Disc and Sciatica
After understanding the basics of both a herniated disc and sciatica, let’s now talk about the differences.
A herniated disc is a diagnosis and mechanism that happens in the spine, where sciatica is a symptom.
Another interesting fact is that over half the population has a herniated disc but has no pain associated with it. Said differently, a herniated disc does not always mean you have pain or sciatica.
The best news is that if you have a herniated disc or sciatica, conservative treatment like seeing a chiropractor or seeking out chiropractic care can be a great solution.
The research shows that conservative treatment is always the best and first option for herniated discs and sciatica. Our practice Strive2Move has expertise in treating patients like this each and everyday.
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