A herniated disc can occur any place on the spine, however, most occur in the lower back. Herniation of a disc can be caused by several factors, including an injury to the spine such as a crack or a tear or simple wear and tear as you age. Eventually, discs dry out and they lose their flexibility and resiliency.
When a disc is herniated, the bulging disc puts pressure on the nerve roots. This causes the pain, numbness and weakness that you associate with a herniated disc. If the herniated disc is in the lower part of the back, you can experience pain down a leg or in the buttocks. This is known as sciatica and is the most common symptom patients with a herniated disc experience.
If the herniated disc isn’t pressing on a nerve you may not even know you have a herniation as you won’t experience any pain or an ache in your back.
If you experience any weakness or numbness in both legs or lose bowel or bladder control, you’ll want to see your doctor immediately as it can be a sign of cauda equina syndrome.
To diagnose the problem, your doctor will begin by taking a complete medical history and performing an initial examination of the problem area. That may be all that’s needed in the case of a herniated disc. If necessary, your doctor may order an MRI or a CT scan to confirm the diagnosis and rule out any other health issues.
A herniated disc can get better in a few weeks or months if you take a few simple steps. Initially, you should get some bed rest, but no longer than a day or two. Lack of exercise can make the problem worse, not better.
You may want to try a heating pad or a warm shower for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours. Don’t use the high setting on the pad – low to medium is the most effective.
If you’ve seen your doctor, then exercises may have been recommended. These can help strengthen your back muscle, preventing additional injury. Non-prescription pain medication may also help relieve the pain.
About half of people who suffer from a herniated disc are much better in a month. Only about 10% of patients require surgery.
If you do need surgery, you will have a discectomy where the disc that is damaged will be removed, often through a minimally invasive procedure. The type of discectomy you have will depend on the location of the herniated disc(s).
After surgery you may need to undergo some form of physical therapy before you return to your original routines. Your doctor at the Florida Hospital Celebration Health Spine Center will go over these steps if you end up needing surgery.