What is a herniated disk?
Between each of the bones forming the spine is a spongy disc containing a soft, jelly-like center surrounded by a harder exterior. Occasionally, some of this softer substance breaks through a crack in the dense exterior. This is referred to as a herniated disk, also a slipped or ruptured disk.
Herniated disk symptoms
Most herniated disks occur in the lower back (lumbar spine) and can result in symptoms such as pain, numbness and/or weakness in an arm or leg. The most frequent symptom of a herniated disk in the lower back is pain and numbness in the buttock and down the leg. This is called sciatica. Less often, herniated disks can occur in the neck (cervical spine). Even rarer are are those occurring in the upper back (thoracic) spine.
Treatment for herniated disks
Some, though not all, herniated disks require proactive treatment which may include pain medication, injections, chiropractic care, physical therapy or a combination thereof. Surgery is considered as a last resort and, in most cases, isn’t necessary.
To determine a proper course of treatment, the following are typically considered: a review of symptoms, the patient’s medical history, a complete physical and one or more diagnostic tests if needed. These can include a CT Scan, an MRI Scan or a Discogram. The latter is regarded as controversial and so not used by many doctors.
Herniated disks are caused by either wear and tear due to aging or from injury to the spine. With proper care, a herniated disk will usually heal on its own over time. Symptoms generally improve within a few weeks or months.
To optimize recovery, refraining from activity is recommended only if you’re experiencing severe pain. Remaining active will prevent further muscle deterioration. It’s also important to follow any exercise plan suggested by your medical team. Consult with your doctor about medication for pain.