Causes of a herniated nucleus pulposus — sports participation

Participation in certain sports is one of the causes of herniated nucleus pulposus (HNP) — a term used to describe a herniated disc. Sports contribute to this condition because of the stress placed on the spine through high impacts and repetitive motions.

While there is no way to eliminate the risk of developing a spine condition like HNP, there are steps you can take to more safely participate in your favorite activities. The following information can be helpful to people who are looking to either prevent or treat this condition.

What is a herniated nucleus pulposus?

The vertebral bodies in the spine are separated by spongy discs that absorb shock and allow for movement. These structures feature a tough outer wall, called the annulus fibrosus, and gel-like inner disc material, which is called the nucleus pulposus. Factors like age, injury and extra weight can weaken the annulus fibrosus, causing cracks and tears. A herniated nucleus pulposus develops when the nucleus begins to push through the weakened outer layer, which can cause symptoms by putting pressure on the surrounding spinal nerves.

How sports place stress on the spine

While being physically active is a great way to increase the strength and flexibility of the spine, certain activities can also accelerate degeneration by putting undue stress on spinal anatomy, including the joints and discs. Many sports involve jarring hits, which can damage the spine and have long-lasting effects even after a small injury heals. Other sports involve repeated twisting motions that put excess strain on the discs over time. Some examples of higher risk sports include:

  • Football
  • Hockey
  • Baseball
  • Golf
  • Gymnastics

Most athletes and enthusiasts are willing to accept the risks involved with their favorite sport even when they are aware of them. However, there are steps anyone can take to engage in athletic activity as safely as possible. This includes using safety equipment and proper technique as well as being in optimal physical condition and fully recovering between workouts, practices and events.

Upon diagnosis, HNP can be treated with a course of conservative treatment options like medication, physical therapy, massage, steroid injections, ice packs and heating pads. These and other methods are successful for many patients, with spine surgery usually being seen as a last-resort treatment option.

If surgery ever becomes a serious option, contact Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive spine surgery uses a less than 1-inch incision to access the spine, sparing the muscles and leading to less risk of complication and a shorter recovery time compared to traditional open neck or back procedures.

To learn more about our outpatient procedures and to receive a no-cost MRI review to determine if you may be a candidate, contact Laser Spine Institute today.

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