Overview on herniated disk

When it comes to a slipped disk in the lower back or neck, it is actually a herniated disk which is a common source of pain in the lower back, neck, legs or arms. These disks are rubbery, soft pads found in between the hard bones that comprises the spinal column.

Note: the information posted on this page on herniated disks is for learning purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage major emergencies, such as spinal emergencies, register for first aid training with a provider near you. If you suspect you have a herniated disk consult a medical professional immediately.

What are the possible causes?

A herniated disk occurs when a part of the center nucleus thrusts through the exterior edge of the disk and back towards the spinal canal. This will place pressure on the nerves. The spinal nerves are highly sensitive to even minimal amounts of pressure which results to pain, weakness or numbness in one or both legs.

Herniated disk

The usual indication of a herniated disk is no other than sciatica. This is described as a sharp, often piercing pain that radiates from the buttocks up to the back part of one leg.

What are the symptoms?

It is important to note that pain alone is not enough to determine if there is a herniated disk. A doctor must be consulted if back pain occurs after a fall or a direct blow to the back. The usual indication of a herniated disk is no other than sciatica. This is described as a sharp, often piercing pain that radiates from the buttocks up to the back part of one leg. This is caused by pressure on the spinal nerve and accompanied by other symptoms such as the following:

  • Tingling or numbness in one leg or buttock
  • Weakness in one leg
  • Burning pain that is focused in the neck
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control

Diagnosing herniated disk

The doctor will ask for a complete medical history and how the injury was sustained.  The doctor will conduct a physical examination to determine which nerve roots are affected. An X-ray will be taken to reveal any disk or degenerative changes in the spine. Other tests such as CT scan, MRI or electromyography are also performed if the pain continues.

Treatment for herniated disk

The non-surgical treatment is highly effective in managing the symptoms of herniated disk in most individuals.  Most of the back or neck pain will resolve gradually with the help of simple measures.

  • The individual should rest and be given over-the-counter pain medications.
  • A cold compress or ice pack can be applied several times in a day at 20 minutes at a time.
  • Analgesics, muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory medications are also beneficial.
  • Once the spasms settle, it is time to utilize gentle heat applications.

Any physical activity should be regulated especially those that involve lifting and bending forward. This will help guarantee that the symptoms will not recur. For the lower back, the individual should perform exercises that can help strengthen the back and abdominal muscles. As for the neck, traction or exercises can also help. The best way to avoid future episodes of pain is to learn how to stand, lift and sit properly.

In case these non-surgical treatment options do not work, the doctor might recommend epidural injections of cortisone in order to reduce the nerve irritation as well as allow the individual to participate in physical therapy. Remember that these injections are administered on an outpatient basis over a period of several weeks.

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