Patient Education

To help you understand and navigate through your orthopedic health decisions, we have created a patient education section. Please select from one of the categories below to learn more about your condition or procedure.
Herniated Disc

A herniated disc, also known as a slipped or ruptured disc, occurs when the soft inner gel-like core of an intervertebral disc (nucleus pulposus) protrudes through a tear or rupture in the tough outer layer (annulus fibrosus). This condition can cause pain, numbness, or weakness in the limbs, depending on the location of the herniation.

Common Symptoms

  • Pain:
    • Localized pain: Sharp or burning pain in the back or neck.
    • Radicular pain: Radiating pain in the arms or legs (sciatica in the lower back).
  • Numbness and tingling: In the affected area or limbs.
  • Muscle weakness: Weakness in muscles served by the affected nerves.
  • Loss of reflexes: Decreased or absent reflexes in the affected limbs.

Cause & Anatomy

  • Degenerative changes: Age-related wear and tear leading to disc degeneration.
  • Injury: Trauma or lifting heavy objects improperly.
  • Repetitive stress: Repetitive activities that stress the spine.
  • Genetics: Family history of disc problems.
  • Lifestyle factors: Smoking, obesity, and lack of regular exercise.

Diagnosis

  • Medical history and physical examination: Assessing symptoms and conducting a neurological exam.
  • Imaging tests:
    • MRI: Most common and effective for visualizing soft tissues and confirming a herniated disc.
    • CT scan: Provides detailed images of the spine.
    • X-rays: To rule out other causes of pain such as fractures.
    • Myelogram: X-ray with dye injected into the spinal fluid for detailed images.

Prevention

  • Proper lifting techniques: To avoid injury.
  • Healthy lifestyle: Maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, and avoiding smoking.
  • Ergonomics: Using supportive furniture and practicing good posture.
  • Avoiding repetitive stress: Reducing activities that strain the spine.

Treatment

  • Medications:
    • NSAIDs: To reduce pain and inflammation.
    • Pain relievers: Over-the-counter or prescription.
    • Muscle relaxants: To relieve muscle spasms.
    • Corticosteroids: Oral or injected to reduce inflammation.
  • Physical therapy: Exercises to strengthen muscles, improve flexibility, and alleviate pain.
  • Lifestyle modifications: Weight management, smoking cessation, and ergonomic adjustments.
  • Alternative therapies: Chiropractic care, acupuncture, and massage therapy.

Surgery

  • Microdiscectomy: Minimally invasive procedure to remove the herniated portion of the disc.
  • Laminectomy: Removing part of the vertebra to relieve pressure on the nerves.
  • Disc replacement: Replacing the damaged disc with an artificial one.
  • Spinal fusion: Fusing two or more vertebrae together to stabilize the spine.

Complications & Prognosis

Complications

  • Chronic pain: Persistent pain despite treatment.
  • Nerve damage: Ongoing numbness, tingling, or weakness.
  • Recurrence: Disc herniation can occur again at the same or a different level.
  • Cauda equina syndrome: Severe complication involving loss of bladder or bowel control, requiring emergency treatment.

Prognosis

  • Recovery: Many patients improve with non-surgical treatments within a few weeks to months.
  • Surgery: Often successful in relieving symptoms when conservative treatments fail.

FAQ’s

What is the most common cause of a herniated disc?
Age-related degenerative changes and improper lifting techniques are common causes.

Can a herniated disc heal on its own?
Yes, many herniated discs improve with time and conservative treatment.

When should I consider surgery for a herniated disc?
Surgery is considered if conservative treatments fail to relieve symptoms after several weeks to months, or if there is significant nerve damage or severe pain.

How long does recovery take after herniated disc surgery?
Recovery time varies but typically ranges from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the type of surgery and the patient’s overall health.

What activities should I avoid if I have a herniated disc?
Avoid heavy lifting, high-impact activities, and prolonged sitting or standing without breaks. Your healthcare provider can give specific recommendations based on your condition.

Can physical therapy help with a herniated disc?
Yes, physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles supporting the spine, improve flexibility, and reduce pain.

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