Herniated Disk

Overview

Disks are the soft, rubbery pads located between the vertebrae that together, make up the spinal column. These disks allow the vertebrae to flex and bend, so you have movement and motion along the back. They also act as shock absorbers.

When someone says they have a "slipped" or "ruptured" disk in their lower back or neck, what they actually mean is they have a herniated disk. It is a common source of pain in the neck, lower back, arms and legs.

Left untreated, it can be a degenerative injury. However, the sport medicine professionals at the Florida Hospital Celebration Health Sports Medicine Program are highly experienced in treating herniated disks and returning patients to a normal, healthy and active lifestyle as quickly as possible.

 

What Causes Herniated Disks?

A disk can rupture or herniate when a part of the center nucleus pushes through the outer edge of the disk and back toward the spinal canal. This rupture puts pressure on the nerves, which are very sensitive, even to the slightest pressure. This can cause pain, numbness and weakness in one or both legs.

The main causes of herniated disks are:

  • Improper lifting
  • Smoking
  • Excessive body weight that places added stress on the disks
  • Sudden pressure
  • Repetitive strenuous activities

 

Symptoms

 

Lower Back Region

Many issues can cause pain in the lower back. If you suffer from a fall or a blow to the back and experience pain, you'll want to schedule an appointment at the FHCH Sports Medicine Program. A sharp, shooting pain that extends from the buttocks down the back of one leg (known as sciatica) can be a sign that there is pressure on the spinal nerve.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Weakness in one leg
  • Tingling (a "pins-and-needles" sensation) or numbness in one leg or buttock
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • A burning pain centered in the neck

 

Neck Region

Like lower back pain, neck pain can have many causes. A herniated disk in this area causes pain in the muscles between your neck and shoulder (the trapezius muscles). The pain can shoot all the way down the arm and can also cause headaches in the back of the head.

Other symptoms include:

  • Weakness in one arm
  • Tingling (a "pins-and-needles" sensation) or numbness in one arm
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Burning pain in the shoulders, neck, or arm

If you have any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor. During your appointment, you will undergo a simple x-ray to see if there is evidence of disk or degenerative spine changes. And MRI or CT scan may also be used to confirm which disk is injured. Additionally, a test that measures nerve impulses to the muscles (electromyography) may be recommended if the pain continues or grows worse.

 

Treatment

Non-surgical treatment of a herniated disk can be effective for more than 90% of patients. Most neck and back pain will resolve itself gradually if you use the following simple measures:

  • Rest and over-the-counter pain relievers may be all that is needed.
  • Muscle relaxers, analgesics and anti-inflammatory medications are also helpful.
  • Cold compresses or ice can also be applied several times a day for no more than 20 minutes at a time.
  • After any spasms settle, gentle heat applications may be used.

For lower back injuries, you may find that exercises are helpful since they strengthen the back and abdominal muscles. With neck injuries, exercises can also be helpful, as is traction. To prevent additional pain, it is essential to learn how to stand, sit and lift properly.

If none of these measures work, epidural injections are another option. A cortisone-like drug can reduce nerve irritation and allow you to participate more fully in physical therapy. These injections are administered on an outpatient basis over the course of weeks.

Learn about Herniated Disk surgery.

If you have questions about herniated disks or want to make an appointment, please contact one of our Patient Care Coordinators and they'll be happy to help you.