Common Herniated Disc Questions
What is a herniated disc?
In between your vertebrae in your spine, you have intervertebral discs. They help cushion your movements. The disc has a gel-like inner substance called the nucleus pulposus and a tire-like outer band called the annulus fibrosus. The nucleus can push out through the annulus: That's a herniated disc.
What causes a herniated disc?
Herniated discs can develop gradually as the result of wear and tear on the spine—a natural part of aging. As we grow older, our intervertebral discs can lose their elasticity and water content, making them more likely to herniate. Over several weeks or even months, the nucleus pulposus can start to push through the annulus fibrosus.
Herniated discs can also happen suddenly from incorrect lifting or twisting that aggravates a weakened disc.
What are some non-surgical ways to deal with a herniated disc?
To help deal with pain from herniated disc, you can try:
- ice during the first 24 to 48 hours after the initial injury (if you herniate your disc suddenly); the ice will help reduce the swelling, muscle spasms, and pain. Wrap the ice in a towel and put it on the painful area for 15 minutes at a time.
- heat after the first 48 hours because that will warm and relax sore tissues; you can use a heating pad for 20 minutes at a time.
- restricting your activities that increase the pain
- light exercise (walking, swimming, etc) as recommended by your doctor
- over-the-counter medications
- prescription medications
- physical therapy
Will I need surgery?
Most herniated discs respond well to non-surgical treatments. In fact, sometimes the pain from herniated discs goes away on its own after 4 to 6 weeks. Surgery should be considered only after you've tried several months of non-surgical treatment. You surgeon will recommend the best kind of surgery for you. Here are some common kinds of surgery used for patients with a herniated disc:
- anterior cervical discectomy and fusion
To learn more about these specific surgeries, please read Surgery for a Herniated Disc.