A herniated disk sounds like an excruciating injury, something that happens after falling from a roof or getting kicked by a horse. Painful as it is, the condition is typically caused by long-term overuse or repetitive injury – simple movements like lifting, bending, reaching and twisting – not a single fall or impact.
“A herniated disk is often the result of a gradual wear and tear called degeneration of the disks,” explains Anthony J. Muffoletto, M.D., board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in diseases and deformities of the spine with Methodist Orthopaedic Specialists of Texas. Herniated disks are most common in middle age, especially from age 35 to 45.
“As you age, the spinal disks become less flexible and more prone to injury,” Dr. Muffoletto adds. The spine is cushioned by disks with gel-like centers, and a disk becomes herniated when pressure causes the soft material to protrude out of a tear in the disk.
Depending on the location and severity of the herniated disk, you may feel severe back pain or no pain at all. Pain is caused when a herniated disk (also called a slipped or ruptured disk) irritates a spinal nerve nearby.
(Photo): Anthony J. Muffoletto, M.D
Signs and symptoms include:
• Radiating pain or tingling that extends down one leg (called sciatica).
• Pain, numbness or weakness in your lower back and one leg, or in your neck, shoulder, chest or arm.
• Low back pain or leg pain that worsens when you sit, cough or sneeze.
Treatment depends on a variety of factors, including your symptoms, age, activity level and worsening conditions. “Conservative treatments relieve symptoms in about nine out of 10 patients,” Dr. Muffoletto says. “Doing stretches and exercises while also managing pain with medication helps the body heal on its own, usually within one or two months.”
Conservative treatment may include rest and activity modification, a light exercise routine designed for stability and strength, avoiding sitting for extending periods of time, applying mild heat and ice for 20 minutes at a time and taking anti-inflammatory medications.
Physical therapy can be useful for both pain relief and rehabilitation. Ultrasound and electrical stimulation may be used to relieve pain, while exercises improve core strength to prevent future injury.
Surgery may be recommended in rare cases if the pain is severe or an abnormal disk is causing a neurological problem. Surgical options to remove the herniated portion of the disk and relieve pressure on the nerve include diskectomy and microdiskectomy. This is usually an outpatient procedure and pain relief is typically immediate.
A Healthy Back Starts Here
It’s time to see a doctor if your back pain:
• Is disabling for more than one week.
• Interferes with your normal activities for one to three weeks.
• Has not improved significantly after four to six weeks.
While not all pain can be cured, it can be managed — especially if back or neck pain is keeping you from taking part in everyday activities. Our team of pain specialists at Methodist Sugar Land Hospital’s Spine Center will perform a thorough evaluation and formulate a treatment plan specific to your condition.
The Spine Center is located on the Methodist Sugar Land Hospital campus with easy access off Town Center Boulevard. Patients with primary care physician referrals, as well as those without referrals, are welcome. For more information or to schedule an appointment at Methodist Sugar Land Hospital’s Spine Center, please call 281-313-BACK (2225).