Herniated discs in teens can be very worrisome for the young person and their parents alike. In teenagers, herniations are often the results of idiopathic reasons or defined circumstances of traumatic injury, such as sporting injuries or car accidents.
Herniations in teenagers are otherwise just like bulging discs in adults. They are rarely problematic and even the ones which do cause pain usually resolve without any particular treatment needed. The exceptions to this rule are disc herniations which compress a spinal nerve root, those which compress the actual spinal cord and those which rupture and possibly enact chemical radiculitis.
Just remember that how a disc issue is handled from a diagnostic perspective will have long ranging effects on teens for the rest of their lives. This is why it is crucial to find an objective care provider who will not frighten them unnecessarily, but will merely ascertain and explain the facts of their disc abnormality.
This patient guide helps teens and their parents better understand intervertebral herniation and its typical effects on the greater spinal anatomy.
Causes of Herniated Discs in Teens
Teenagers do not usually suffer spinal degeneration to the extent of facilitating herniations. However, some may endure premature degeneration, including disc desiccation in the lumbar and/or cervical spinal regions.
I was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease at age 16 and found out for sure that I had 2 herniated discs in my early 20s. There was diagnostic evidence showing that these herniations were likely present even earlier.
Teens who participate in risky activities may have a much higher incidence of herniations, regardless of whether or not they have any back pain or sciatica. The most common of these activities include: gymnastics, martial arts, horseback riding, American football, rugby, wrestling and skateboarding. Remember, teenagers are very active and often reckless with their bodies. It is one of the benefits of being so young and resilient.
Treatment of Teenage Herniated Discs
Treatment for herniated discs is rarely needed in teens, since most intervertebral irregularities are asymptomatic and cause no pain or related neurological concerns.
For truly problematic herniations which are proven (not suspected) to be sourcing serious health concerns, drastic treatment may be needed. In these instances, most teens will be prescribed physical therapy and other conservative modalities, including chiropractic and exercises. Many might be given herniated disc drugs, which is a troubling issue to this author, given the risks inherent to many of these pills and the tender age of the patient.
Very few teens will be even considered for surgical intervention, unless their disc issues are truly functionally impairing. This is one statistic which makes me very happy.
Herniated Discs in Teens Cautions
There is no way to prevent a teen from injuring themselves during their favorite pastimes. Some sports and activities simply present greater risk for spinal degeneration and/or injury. This is a fact. However, it does not mean that a teen should be prevented from taking part in an activity they love. Just make sure that they are careful and will do everything possible to keep themselves healthy and strong by avoiding injury.
Teens are very susceptible to the nocebo effect of a positive herniated disc diagnosis. Keep this in mind as you speak to them and their doctor. Actually, I highly recommend that parents speak to the doctor first and making sure that the teen will not be frightened by the diagnosis, since this is proven to have long-term effects on their future health and functional ability.