Chicago Health | Homepage
Herniation can happen to a disk for a number of reasons

Herniation can happen to a disk for a number of reasons

DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I was recently diagnosed with a herniated disk in my back. It’s causing quite a bit of pain throughout one of my legs. My doctor says the disk is basically choking the nerves in my lumbar spine. Surgery has been recommended, but I’m not sure I want surgery. I’ve heard it’s not always effective. Will my condition worsen without it?

ANSWER: A herniated disk often can be effectively treated without surgery. Medication and physical therapy typically ease the pain and discomfort caused by a herniated disk. But in some cases, particularly when the injured disk is compressing a nerve, surgery may be helpful.

Spinal disks are a special kind of joint located between the spine bones, called vertebrae, that stack up to create your spine. The disks serve as cushions between the vertebrae. They have a soft center wrapped within tougher exterior layers. A herniated disk happens when some of the softer material pushes out through a crack in the outer layers of the disk.

Herniation can happen to a disk for a number of reasons. Sometimes, using your back muscles instead of your leg muscles to lift large, heavy objects can overload your spine and lead to a herniated disk. Twisting and turning while lifting may damage the disk joint. Rarely, a traumatic event — such as a fall or a blow to the back — can cause a herniated disk. Most often, though, it’s not a single event that causes a disk to herniate. Instead, it results from a gradual process of degeneration that happens due to aging and wear and tear on the disk over time.

Treatment for a herniated disk usually starts with efforts to relieve symptoms. A short period of rest (no longer than about 24 to 36 hours) can help. Research has shown that longer periods of bedrest are not helpful.

Medications often are used to ease discomfort. In cases that involve nerve irritation, medication designed to relieve nerve pain may be useful. Muscle relaxants can be helpful if you experience muscle spasms as a result of a herniated disk.

Manual therapy also may help. A physical therapist or another musculoskeletal specialist can show you exercises and other techniques that can reduce herniated disk symptoms and promote an earlier return to work or other daily activities.

Surgery typically is recommended only after other treatments haven’t worked or when symptoms are severe. The procedure most frequently used for a herniated disk is called a diskectomy. During this surgery, a surgeon removes the part of the disk that is placing pressure on the nerve. In some special cases, the entire disk may need to be removed. This is uncommon, but when it happens, the surgeon usually fills the space with a piece of bone, and the vertebrae on either side are fused together with metal hardware.

Diskectomy often effectively reduces herniated disk symptoms when nerve compression is the source of the problem. If the pain is due to other factors, then the surgery may not help. Even if it eases pain for a while, a diskectomy may not be a permanent cure. The process that led to the herniated disk initially may continue, leading to additional disk injury in the future. To help keep your spine healthy after surgery, your doctor may suggest weight loss, exercise or physical therapy. You also may need to limit some activities that include bending, twisting or lifting.

It is hard to know if your condition will worsen without surgery. But it is unlikely that it will get better without any treatment. Discuss your misgivings about surgery with your doctor. Ask if more conservative treatments might be appropriate at this time. If your doctor still recommends surgery, make sure you understand all the possible risks and benefits and get all your questions answered before you move forward. — Paul Huddleston, III, M.D., Orthopedic Surgery, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.

(Mayo Clinic Q & A is an educational resource and doesn’t replace regular medical care. E-mail a question to MayoClinicQ&A@mayo.edu. For more information, visit www.mayoclinic.org.)

(c) 2016 MAYO FOUNDATION FOR MEDICAL EDUCATION AND RESEARCH. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Similar Articles

Make your diet more nutrient-dense

Make your diet more nutrient-dense

Environmental Nutrition By Matthew Kadey, M.S., R.D., Environmental Nutrition Newsletter There is only so much food you

Gluten related symptoms: Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity?

Gluten related symptoms: Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity?

The Medicine Cabinet: Ask the Harvard Experts By Howard LeWine, M.D. Q: I seem to be very

Start treatment now to prevent spring allergy symptoms

Start treatment now to prevent spring allergy symptoms

The Medicine Cabinet: Ask the Harvard Experts By Howard LeWine, M.D. Q: I have spring allergies. Every

Does your doctor’s gender matter?

Does your doctor’s gender matter?

By Robert H. Shmerling, M.D. Harvard Health Blog I've read medical research studies that surprised me. I've

10 tips to fight osteoporosis

10 tips to fight osteoporosis

Environmental Nutrition By Carrie Dennett, M.P.H., R.D.N., Environmental Nutrition Newsletter Because 70 percent of our bone destiny

Articles By Category

Family Health

In The Know

CH Lifestyle

April 2017
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
March 26, 2017 March 27, 2017 March 28, 2017 March 29, 2017 March 30, 2017 March 31, 2017 April 1, 2017
April 2, 2017 April 3, 2017 April 4, 2017 April 5, 2017 April 6, 2017 April 7, 2017 April 8, 2017
April 9, 2017 April 10, 2017 April 11, 2017 April 12, 2017 April 13, 2017 April 14, 2017 April 15, 2017
April 16, 2017 April 17, 2017 April 18, 2017 April 19, 2017 April 20, 2017 April 21, 2017 April 22, 2017
April 23, 2017 April 24, 2017 April 25, 2017 April 26, 2017 April 27, 2017 April 28, 2017 April 29, 2017
April 30, 2017 May 1, 2017 May 2, 2017 May 3, 2017 May 4, 2017 May 5, 2017 May 6, 2017

Categories

Recent Comments

Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Enjoy a great night of baseball at Peoples Natural

VIEW ARTICLE
Cost to give birth 1943 - Page 3 - Defending The Truth Political Forum

Cost to give birth 1943 - Page 3 - Defending The Truth Political Forum

A Hazy Shade of Healthcare: What does tort reform

VIEW ARTICLE

Archives