Herniated Disc Risk Factors

Dec 15, 2022

Herniated Disc Risk FactorsThe spine provides support and stability to the human body while also protecting the spinal cord and nerves. A column of bones called vertebrae make up the spine, separated by spongy discs that act as shock absorbers, known as spinal discs. The spine also has a complex and vital network of muscles, ligaments, and tendons that support the spine and help with mobility. From the base of your skull through your lower back, the spine is complicated and prone to many conditions and injuries. The spine is responsible for such a wide range of functions that even the slightest damage can make everyday movements or activities painful or even impossible. From standing upright to bending and twisting, a spine injury like a herniated disc requires medical attention so you can experience quality, lasting relief.

How Spinal Discs Work

Spinal discs are important structures located between the vertebrae of the spine. The spine has 23 spinal discs that provide cushion and support from your neck through your lower back. A spinal disc has a tough outer layer known as the annulus fibrosus. Layers of tough, fibrous tissue that make up the annulus fibrosus work to encase the nucleus safely. Inside the spinal disc is a gel-like substance called the nucleus pulposus. The nucleus of the spinal disc helps to distribute pressure equally and absorb shock while the spine moves. Spinal discs act as shock absorbers and provide flexibility for the vertebrae to move and bend while also protecting them from damage. Spinal discs also help support the weight of the body, and when they are healthy, they allow you to move your spine freely and without experiencing any pain. However, damage or degeneration to spinal discs can cause back pain and other problems in and around the spine.

What is a Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc is a type of injury that impacts a spinal disc where the tough outer layer becomes cracked or torn, and the nucleus bulges or leaks out. A herniated disc is also sometimes referred to as a slipped disc. A tear in the annulus fibrosus can occur for a variety of reasons, and the gel-like center slips out. When this happens, the gel-like material of the nucleus pulposus can aggravate nearby nerves and soft tissues.

Herniated Disc vs. Bulging Disc

What Happens if a Herniated Disc Goes UntreatedAnother common spinal disc injury is called a bulging disc, though there are some important differences between these two conditions. While a herniated disc causes the inner substance to leak out through a tear of the outer layer, a bulging disc does not. Instead, a bulging disc refers to when the disc bulges outward, but the gel-like center does not leak out. However, both a herniated disc and a bulging disc can occur for similar reasons and cause similar symptoms, so you will likely need a doctor to determine the specific type of disc injury you are experiencing.

Risk Factors for a Herniated Disc

There are several factors that can increase the likelihood of developing a herniated disc.


The discs in the spine naturally begin to lose some of their elasticity and water content as we age. Older adults can be at greater risk for developing a herniated disc than younger adults. The spine is also subjected to constant wear and tear over time, which can contribute to the gradual degeneration of spinal discs. Changes in the bones and muscles that support the spine can also make spinal discs more susceptible to injury.


Certain jobs and occupations that involve heavy lifting or repetitive movements can also increase the risk of a herniated disc. Workers in construction, warehouses, and manufacturing who lift and carry heavy materials, along with working in awkward positions, can experience extra strain on the spine. Truck drivers who sit for long hours, along with the physical demands of loading and unloading heavy materials, can also increase the risk of a herniated disc.

Poor Posture

Poor posture can put extra stress on the spine and the spinal discs that support it. Common reasons for poor posture include slouching or hunching over a desk or sitting for long periods of time. Chronic poor posture can result in an uneven distribution of pressure and stress on the spine, meaning some spinal discs have to work extra hard to carry the load, putting them at greater risk for damage or injury.


Some people may also be more prone to developing a herniated disc to certain genetic risk factors. Genetics can play a role in the health of the spine, whether that means you are more prone to a condition like osteoarthritis or degenerative disc disease. Genetics can also impact the strength and flexibility of muscles, bones, and other tissues that support the spine.


Smoking has been linked to an increased risk of a herniated disc because it can reduce blood flow to the discs. Smoking can also contribute to degenerative changes in the spine.

Sedentary Lifestyle

People who live a more sedentary lifestyle or lack regular exercise can also increase their risk for a herniated disc or other types of injuries. If you do not engage in regular exercise, your muscles could become weakened, and you lose the strength and flexibility necessary to support a healthy spine.


Being overweight or obese can also put too much stress on the spine and increase your risk of a herniated disc. Because the spine supports the body’s weight, additional weight combined with poor posture or a more sedentary lifestyle means your spine may not have the necessary strength and stability to prevent damage to spinal discs.

Previous Injury

A previous injury to the spine can make it more likely for you to develop a herniated disc in the future. Previous injuries could include a bulging or herniated disc or another type of spinal injuries like a fractured vertebra or spinal stenosis.

Causes of a Herniated Disc

There are several potential causes of a herniated disc.


As previously mentioned, aging can cause a herniated disc as the spinal discs begin to lose some of their strength and elasticity.


A car accident injury or sports injury can also lead to disc herniation with sudden and forceful impact and pressure on the spine.

Degenerative Conditions

Degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease can cause the spinal discs to weaken and make them more prone to herniation.

Signs & Symptoms of a Herniated Disc

The symptoms of a herniated disc can vary depending on the location and severity of the herniation, including a person’s health conditions and sensitivity to pain. Common signs and symptoms of a herniated disc include:


A herniated disc can cause pain in multiple locations. You may experience pain at the site of the herniated disc that can feel like a sharp, intermittent pain or a dull, constant discomfort. Pain from a herniated disc can also radiate into other parts of the body, like the extremities. For example, a herniated disc that occurs in the neck can cause radiating pain in the arm and hand. If you suffer a herniated disc in the lower back, you could experience pain that extends into your buttock, hip, and leg.

Tingling & Numbness

When the inside of a spinal disc leaks out through a tear or crack in the outer shell, it can aggravate nearby nerves. This can cause uncomfortable nerve pain and symptoms like tingling and numbness. Irritated or compressed nerves can send tingling and numbing sensations into other areas of the body they control. For example, a herniated disc in the neck can also cause tingling and numbness that feels like a “pins and needles” sensation that extends into your arm, hand, and fingers.

Muscle Weakness

The nerves in and around the spine area also control muscle functioning, so when one becomes compressed or damaged, it can impact healthy functioning. This means that a herniated disc could cause muscle weakness in the muscles that are served by the affected nerves.

Difficulty Moving

Pain, weakness, and other symptoms associated with a herniated disc can also make it difficult to complete certain movements or activities. A herniated disc might cause an increase in pain or other symptoms if you twist or turn a certain way, or you might experience muscle weakness that reduces your range of motion.

Changes in Functioning

In severe cases, a disc herniation in the lower back can also cause changes in bowel or bladder function. If you experience these symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately to avoid further damage or complications. It is important to note that these symptoms could also be caused by other conditions or issues as well, so a proper diagnosis is necessary to determine the correct cause and appropriate course of treatment.

How to Treat a Herniated Disc

How to Treat a Herniated DiscVisit your Jonesboro doctor to find out what type of treatment options would be best for your specific symptoms of a herniated disc. Depending on the location and severity of the herniated disc, your doctor may recommend either non-invasive treatments or possibly surgery. These are a few examples of how to treat a herniated disc.

Get Plenty of Rest

Getting plenty of rest is a key aspect of healing and making a full recovery after an injury like a herniated disc. You may also need to avoid certain movements or activities as they could exacerbate your pain or make other symptoms worse.

Pain Management

Ice and heat therapy are non-invasive treatment options to help with pain and other symptoms of a herniated disc. Applying ice to the area provides a temporary numbing sensation, along with helping reduce any inflammation. Applying heat can help soothe sore, aching muscles and promote healthy blood flow to the area. Over-the-counter pain medications or prescriptions may also be recommended to manage pain and reduce inflammation.

Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic care involves the use of natural, hands-on approaches to treating a variety of musculoskeletal conditions, including a herniated disc. A chiropractor can diagnose your herniated disc and restore misalignments in the spine that may be contributing to your discomfort. Spinal adjustments can help relieve pressure on spinal discs and redistribute support with proper posture.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can help improve your strength and mobility in the area affected by a herniated disc. This can include stretches and exercises that provide pain relief and focus on strengthening muscles that support your back and help take pressure off nearby nerves. They may also utilize other modalities like ultrasound or electrical stimulation to promote healing in the area. When you work with a physical therapist after a spine injury like a herniated disc, you can take an active role in your recovery and rehabilitation. This can also provide you with helpful tools and strategies to prevent this type of injury in the future.


In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to treat a herniated disc. The type of surgery will depend on the specifics of your disc herniation and what would work best for you. One type of surgery for a herniated disc is called a discectomy, which involves removing the herniated disc. Other surgical interventions may be recommended, and you should talk to your doctor for more information and review all your options for herniated disc treatment.

If you have experienced a herniated disc, then visit our team of doctors at AICA Orthopedics in Jonesboro for quality, comprehensive treatment, and care. Our Jonesboro doctors at AICA include spine specialists, chiropractors, and physical therapists, who all work together to create an individualized treatment plan to address your needs. We also have diagnostic imaging tools like X-rays, CT scans, and MRI machines available in the office, which means you can get the scans you need and visit your doctor all in one convenient location. Our doctors will provide you with an accurate diagnosis, personalized treatment plan, and support through recovery and rehabilitation after a herniated disc. Visit AICA Orthopedics in Jonesboro to get started with our trusted team of doctors today!


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