A herniated disc can be a painful, debilitating injury. Fortunately, the condition generally responds well to conservative treatments.
Between each vertebrae in the spinal column sits a gel-filled disc that helps cushion the spine as you move. If the outer ring of the intervertebral disc ruptures due to injury or disease, the center of the disc can slip out of place and press against nearby nerves, causing severe pain in the back or neck.
A herniated disc usually occurs in the lumbar region, or lower back, where the pain may radiate to the buttocks, legs, and feet. The condition also produces muscle weakness, or a feeling of numbness and tingling in the lower extremities. However, if the herniated disc isn’t irritating a nerve, you may not experience any symptoms at all.
Poor posture, a sneeze, an awkward sleeping position, or lifting heavy objects improperly can all cause disc herniation. The condition may also result from normal aging that wears down the discs. Though a herniated disc rarely follows a trauma, weightlifters and athletes may “slip a disc” when they strain their backs.
Whatever the source of your disc herniation, conservative treatments like rest and physical therapy will likely get you back to your active lifestyle in no time.
Treating a Herniated Disc
If you’ve been diagnosed with a herniated disc, your orthopedist will recommend a conservative treatment plan that involves a combination of rest, pain medication, and physical therapy. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications reduce pain and stiffness so you can move freely, enabling you to follow a physical therapy program to increase muscle strength and flexibility in the lower back and core.
Though not a cure, an epidural steroid injection can also alleviate pain and lessen inflammation. Like the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, these injections increase your range of motion so you can participate in physical therapy.
If your herniated disc causes severe pain or the surrounding nerves are permanently damaged, you may be advised to consider surgery. The operation entails removing part of the herniated disc or fusing the vertebrae together. After the procedure, you’ll rest for a week followed by a program of stretching exercises. Most people are able to return to normal activities within three weeks. Since the majority of herniated discs respond well to conservative treatment, surgery is seldom recommended as a therapy.
How to Prevent Disc Herniation
If you think you may be at risk, you may want to try some preventative tips to avoid a herniated disc. When lifting a heavy object, for example, bend at the knees while keeping your back straight. That way, you’ll engage your leg muscles as you lift. Practice good posture by always keeping your back straight with your shoulders back, abdomen in and your lower back flat.
Maintaining a strong core with aerobic exercises such as walking and pedaling a stationary bike can also aid in injury prevention. As extra weight may put additional stress on the back, exercising can help control your weight and reduce the risk of disc herniation.
At New York Bone & Joint Specialists, we strive to help our patients overcome orthopedic injuries without surgery. We employ a staff of experienced physical therapists to plan a comprehensive treatment program that features personalized exercises and medication.
Don’t spend another day with back pain! Contact us today to set up an appointment.