Why discopathy in some cases affects the legs, and in others – the hands
Discopathy is a disease associated with the spine and more specifically with the intervertebral discs. It can occur in any area of the spine. Its development without treatment leads to excruciating pain and “stiffness” of certain areas along the back, severe pain, and immobility of the arms or legs.
If the problem is with the discs of the cervical spine, the pain affects the neck, shoulders and arms, and makes it impossible for them to move. Most often, however, the problem occurs in the lumbar region, because this is where the tension of the spine is greatest. Then we talk about leg pain in discopathy, which initially starts from the lower back and “stiffens” it in grows. Over time, a chronic disease develops.
If the disease has affected discs between the vertebrae in the upper chest area, the manifestations are similar to cervical discopathy. If the problem affects the intervertebral discs in the lower chest, the pain and immobility are the same as in lumbar discopathy. However, thoracic discopathy is the rarest – up to 2 percent of all cases, because the area is not as movable as the lumbar and cervical regions, and is not uses as much.
What exactly is discopathy
The spine is under great stress even when we are just standing, sitting or walking slowly. To keep us upright, the spine resists gravity. This vertical load is greatest in the lumbar compartment. In addition, it is from this area of the spine that we make various movements – twists, bends, and stretching backward.
This tension increases if a person is overweight or at work, or is taking part in sports or in any more intense activity. To protect the vertebrae from damage during this vertical load, there are discs between them that serve as buffers.
These discs also provide mobility to the spine. The disc itself is made of a dense, jelly-like mass surrounded by a fibrous ring that, like a capsule, protects the core and ensures the elasticity of the disc.
Various causes can lead the discs to become overloaded. This may be related to one’s profession – for example, physical work with lifting or carrying heavy items; stiff and continuously unchanged positions, such as in a production line, in front of the computer, or when driving long distances, as by professional drivers.
Improper posture, walking in high heels, distortions when frequently carrying a heavy bag over the shoulder, etc. can contribute to the problem. Disc damage can also result from genetic predisposition to spinal abnormalities, trauma, metabolic disorders, and more.
However, the most common cause of discopathy is degenerative changes that occur over the years. The tissues weaken and the discs wear out, lose some of their fluid, their elasticity decreases, and internal cracks and tears occur on their ring. This is like an assault on the disk, causing displacement of its nucleus and change in the shape of its ring. As a result, it swells slightly.
If it ruptures, part of the pithy nucleus comes out and presses the adjacent nerve from the spinal cord, causing pain. Fragments of the nucleus can also enter the spinal canal, where they press on nerve roots or the spinal cord itself. Then, depending on the specific where this occurs, we are talking about leg pain in discopathy or arm pain in discopathy.
Direct and indirect symptoms of discopathy
Nerve compression is a serious health problem that can lead to various complications and be accompanied by a variety of symptoms. Some of them are indirect symptoms, which in early diagnosis can still lead doctors to the disease and make the treatment of discopathy easier. That is why it is important for people not to ignore the appearance of discomfort or to self-medicate, but to seek medical advice.
Discopathy, for example, may be accompanied by the appearance of “unexpected” autonomic disorders such as fever and increased sweating, swelling of the legs, and dry skin. Indirect signs can be problems with menstruation and potency, urinary disorders, and even constipation. This can occur if the discopathy affects the lumbar and sacral sections (in the lower back, hips, and groin).
Of course, these symptoms may be from other diseases, so it should be assessed as to whether they are combined with some of the specific signs of discopathy. Characteristic of discopathy is the stiffness of movements in the morning, numbness of the limbs, relaxed muscles, as well as dull pain that occurs when lifting. Numbness in the area is also common, which patients liken to a dagger with needles, crawling on the skin, or tickling. Another symptom is if the pain that occurs with each movement – even sneezing and coughing – is less in an upright position than when sitting and lying down.
Here the symptoms must be distinguished, for example, from intercostal neuralgia, which the diagnosis will do.
Characteristics of pain in discopathy
As already mentioned, pain in discopathy according to the area where the disease occurred, can affect the arms, neck, shoulders, legs, even in some cases the rectum and perineum – the soft parts in the erogenous zone, which is in the “bottom” of the lesser pelvis.
The pain usually intensifies when moving. Discomfort occurs when waking up in the morning because the disc has been in a static position for a long time and is now moving. The pain often resembles muscle pain. It is also important to locate the site of discomfort – in an intervertebral hernia, it is usually in one part of the body.
Pain and tingling in discopathy have characteristic features according to the affected area of the spine. In lumbar discopathy, the pain is usually on the outside of the leg, in the back. The legs lose their sensitivity, there are usually tingling in the lower spine, legs, and buttocks.
In thoracic discopathy, the pain is in the chest area, affecting the hands as well. Discomfort may occur when the body rotates, and tingling between the shoulder blades is typical. These symptoms of a herniated disc are often confused with manifestations of heart disease. In cervical and thoracic discopathy, in addition to the pain hindering movement in the neck, shoulder joints, and arms, headaches can also occur. The discomfort is intensified by bending and turning the head, dizziness, as well as weakening of attention, concentration, and memory may occur.
Diagnosis and treatment of discopathy
Imaging is used to diagnose discopathy using various technologies. Among them are X-rays, in which degenerative lesions are found in different projections – from intervertebral strictures to fractures and metastases. Another test is computed tomography to detect disc damage and tears. Magnetic resonance imaging provides the most accurate and complete information about the condition of the vertebrae, discs, and neuralgia.
Myelography is now used to a lesser extent, although it has long been actively used for diagnosis. In it, a contrast material is introduced into the spinal canal, after which an X-ray is made. Today, non-invasive methods are mainly used.
There are different ways to go about the treatment of discopathy – through drugs, programs of specialized exercises, inversion therapy, skeletal traction, electrical stimulation, massages, and more. In principle, active movements are limited first and the motor activity is gradually expanded, combining different loads and complete rest.
Analgesics, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and steroids are also used. The purpose is to relieve the pain of irritation of the compressed nerves and to reduce the swelling in the disc. Not only should the pain be relieved, but the general condition of the disc should be improved.
At the doctor’s discretion, a combination with muscle relaxants can be made, special bandages can also be prescribed, or – if it is for cervical discopathy – collars. Usually, the combination of different methods has greater effectiveness and gives a faster recovery time.
Surgical treatment is a last resort when pain cannot be eliminated in conservative ways. The part of the disc compressing the nerve is removed.