How is a Herniated Spinal Disk Treated?

What is a spinal disk? Well, a spinal disk, also known spinal disc, resembles a small, “jelly” donut (i.e. a soft center surrounded by a tough exterior). Spinal disks are located between your vertebrae (bones that form your spine). What is a herniated spinal disk? Well, a herniated spinal disk, also known as a “slipped disk” or ruptured disk, occurs when the some of the “jelly” (the softer part of the disk) leaks out through a small crack or tear in the harder exterior. When this occurs, nearby nerves are irritated, which causes pain, weakness, and numbness in the associated arm or leg. It is important to note that you may not experience herniated spinal disk symptoms. In fact, some people do not even realize that they have a herniated spinal disk. Those people typically do not require surgery to repair the “slipped disk.”

Most herniated disks either occur in your lumbar spine (lower back) or cervical spine (neck). What causes a herniated spinal disk? The cause varies, but gradual wear-and-tear from aging, and overuse (i.e. heavy lifting, twisting, and/or turning) of your back, leg, and thigh muscles appear to play a role in the development and progression on this condition. Although rare, a traumatic fall or blow to the back can cause a herniated disk. In some cases, the exact cause of the “slipped” disk is unknown. If you suspect that you have a herniated spinal disk (i.e. “slipped disk” or ruptured disk) it is important that you consult a neurologist or neurosurgeon for an evaluation. If you are wondering how this condition is treated, you have come to the right place. This article will provide you with various treatment options that can repair your herniated spinal disk.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms associated with a herniated spinal disk are:

Arm or Leg Pain

If your “slipped disk” is located in the lumbar region of your spine, you may feel the most pain in your thigh, buttock, and/or calf (on the affected side). You may also feel some pain in your foot. On the other hand, if your “slipped disk” is located in the cervical region of your spine, you may feel severe pain in your arm or shoulder (on the affected side). In this case, the intense pain may radiate to your arm or shoulder when you sneeze, cough, or turn your body (move your spine from side to side).

Numbness or Prickling

If you have a herniated spinal disk, the affected nerves can cause numbness, or a prickling sensation in that part of your body.

Weakness

A ruptured disk can cause your muscles (connected to the affected nerves) to weaken. When this occurs, you may feel less stable. You may also have a difficult time lifting, and/or holding objects or people. Moreover, there may be times when you stumble, and/or fall.

Treatments

Most neurologists and neurosurgeons recommend that you avoid strenuous and rigorous activities and exercises, and follow a customized treatment plan (i.e. medication, surgery, therapy etc.) and exercise regimen to manage the discomforts of a herniated spinal disk.

Medications

Your neurologist or neurosurgeon may prescribe medications to treat your “slipped disk.” These medications may include:

  • Over-The-Counter Painkillers (i.e. ibuprofen or naproxen) offer temporary relief for mild-to-moderate back and neck pain.
  • Prescription Painkillers/Narcotics (i.e. codeine, hydrocodone, or oxycodone) are used to relieve disk pain.
  • Nerve Pain Medications (i.e. Lyrica, Cymbalta, Ultram, or amitriptyline) are prescribed to ease nerve-damage pain.
  • Muscle Relaxants are used to “quiet” muscle spasms.
  • Cortisone Injections are used to ease pain and reduce swelling.

Therapy

Your neurologist or neurosurgeon may also recommend therapy (lifestyle changes, physical therapy, and/or a customized exercise program) to ease the pain and discomfort of a herniated spinal disk. Your therapy program may include the following:

  • Ultrasounds
  • Traction
  • Heat or ice
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Temporary neck or lower back bracing

Surgery

If all other treatments have been ineffective, your neurologist or neurosurgeon may suggest surgery for your herniated spinal disk. It is important to note that this surgery only needed for a small number of people. In fact, this treatment approach is only mentioned, if you continue to experience worsening pain or if the disk has the ability to affect bodily functions, or your qulaity of life (i.e. difficulty standing, and/or walking, loss of bladder or bowel control, and/or numbness or weakness). During surgery your surgeon, will most likely remove a part of the protruding disk, but not the entire disk. It is rare to remove the entire disk. In some cases, your surgeon may fuse your vertebrae (bones) together with metal hardware. This will make your spine more stable.

References:

Mayo Clinic. (2014). Herniated disk. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/herniated-disk/basics/treatment/con-20029957

WebMD. (2014). Lumbar herniated disc – Topic overview. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/back-pain/tc/herniated-disc-topic-overview

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