An intervertebral disc is located in between the bones (vertebrae) of the spine to provide cushioning support and flexibility within the spine. However, these discs may become damaged and may tear or move out of place. A herniated disc, also known as a ruptured or slipped disc, is a common condition that can occur as a result of an injury to the spine that cracks or tears the disc and causes it to protrude or break open.
Symptoms of a Herniated Disc
Patients with a herniated disc may experience pain, numbness, and weakness in the affected area as the disc presses on the nearby nerve roots or causes irritation of the nerve from the inflammation that results from a disc herniation. The location of the affected disc determines the location of the pain. For example, a herniated disc in the lower back may cause pain through the buttock and down the leg, a condition known as sciatica.
Pain may be worse during activity and then get better during rest. Anything that puts pressure on the nerve, such as coughing sneezing, sitting or bending forward, can cause pain to worsen. Even if the herniated disc does not touch any nerves, patients may still experience pain due to irritation of the nerve roots from the inflammation that a disc herniation incites.
Diagnosing a Herniated Disc
Your doctor can diagnose this condition after performing a physical examination and taking radiographic images of the affected area, typically with an MRI scan. He or she will also ask you questions about your symptoms in order to rule out other conditions and confirm the diagnosis.
Herniated Disc Treatment
Treatment depends on the location and severity of the condition. In many cases, symptoms will improve on their own within a few weeks. Patients should rest, use a heating pad and perform therapeutic exercises in order to manage pain, in addition to taking pain medication prescribed by their doctor. Improving your posture may also be effective in relieving pain and helping a herniated disc heal. For those cases that fail to improve within a few weeks, your doctor may recommend a consultation with a pain management specialist to be evaluated for treatment with epidural steroid injections. These injections can often improve a patient’s symptoms by combating the powerful inflammation typically associated with a disc herniation, which is a primary cause of patient’s symptoms.
Only the most severe cases will require surgery. Surgery is usually reserved for patients whose pain does not improve over the course of a couple of months. Talk to your doctor about your surgical options if your pain does not seem to be getting better.