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Herniated Disk

February 26, 2010


What is a herniated disk?
How does it occur?
What are the symptoms?
How is it diagnosed?
How is it treated?
How long will the effects of a herniated disk last?
When can I return to my sport or activity?

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What is a herniated disk?
When a disk is damaged, the soft rubbery center of the disk squeezes out through a weak point in the hard outer layer. A disk may be damaged by:
– A fall or accident
– Repeated straining of you back
– A sudden strenuous action such as lifting a heavy weight or twisting violently
A herniated disk may also happen spontaneously with out any specific injury.

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How does it occur?
Symptoms of a herniated disk in your neck may begin suddenly or gradually. You may wake up and feel a sudden aching. Or you may have twisted neck that you cannot straighten without extreme pain. You may also have numbness, tingling, or weakness in one or both arms. If your herniated disk below your neck, your symptoms may develop gradually or begin suddenly. Symptoms include:
– Back pain
– Pain down one or both legs
– Numbness, tingling or weakness in one or both legs
– Changes in bladder and bowel habits

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What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of a herniated disk in your neck may begin suddenly or gradually. You may wake up and feel a sudden aching. Or you may have twisted neck that you cannot straighten without extreme pain. You may also have numbness, tingling, or weakness in one or both arms. If your herniated disk below your neck, your symptoms may develop gradually or begin suddenly. Symptoms include:
– Back pain
– Pain down one or both legs
– Numbness, tingling or weakness in one or both legs
– Changes in bladder and bowel habits

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How is it diagnosed?
Your health car provider will review your symptoms and ask about the history of your pain. Then he or she will examine your spine and test the movement and reflexes in your arms and legs. Finally, your provider may want you to have one or more of the following test:
– X-rays of your spine
– Ct scan (computerized x-ray images of your spine)
– Magnetic resonance imaging, also called MRI (an image of your spine and herniated disk generated by sound waves)
– Electromyography (injection of dye into the fluid around the spinal cord that can be seen on x-rays)
– Diskography (injection of dye into a disk and x-rays taken).

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How is it treated?
In most cases, treatment with out surgery will relieve your pain. Treatment for a herniated disk in your neck may include:
– Hot or cold packs
– Anti- inflammatory drugs
– Muscle relaxants
– Prescription pain relievers
– A neck collar or neck brace to relieve muscle spasms
– Neck and shoulder massage
– Traction, which is the process of putting bones or muscles under tension with a system of weights and pulleys to keep them from moving or to relieve pressure on them.
For a herniated disk in your back, treatment may include:
– Several days or move of lying flat on your back on a firm mattress or on an ordinary bed with a stiff board under the mattress, or lying on your belly with a pillow under your chest, whichever is more comfortable
– Muscle relaxants
– Anti-inflammatory
– Prescription pain relievers
– Hot or cold packs, depending on your health care providers preference
– Traction
– Back massage or physical therapy
– Steroid injections into the space near the herniated disk to control pain and inflammation
As your pain lessens, your health care provider will want you to begin a physical therapy program in which you will do exercises to strengthen your back muscles and joints. Recently, stabilizing exercises have been used successfully to treat herniated disks. This therapy involves learning how to control the movement of your spine in all recreation and work activities. If you continue to have symptoms, you may need to have surgery. However, most people who have herniated disks do not need surgery.
How long will the effects of a herniated disk last?
The initial intense pain should go away within a few weeks, but some pain may remain for a few months. You may be prone to backaches throughout your life and therefore must remember to protect your spine when lifting or being physically active. If the weakness and numbness in your legs continue or if you lose control of your bowel or bladder function, contact your health care provider immediately.

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How long will the effects of a herniated disk last?
The initial intense pain should go away within a few weeks, but some pain may remain for a few months. You may be prone to backaches throughout your life and therefore must remember to protect your spine when lifting or being physically active. If the weakness and numbness in your legs continue or if you lose control of your bowel or bladder function, contact your health care provider immediately.

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When can I return to my sport or activity?
Practice correct posture when you are walking, sitting, standing, lying down, or working.
– When lifting heavy objects, dont bend over from your waist. Kneel or squat down by the object, while keeping your back as straight as possible. Use your thigh muscles to do the lifting. Avoid twisting.
– When you stand, always stand up straight with your shoulders back, abdomen in and the small of the back flat. When standing for long periods, move around frequently and shift your weight from one foot to another while standing as straight as possible.
– When you sit, have your feet flat on the floor elevated. Get up every 20 minutes or so and stretch. Sit in a chair that has good back support.
– Sleep on a firm mattress or one with a bed board under it. Lie on your side (never on your stomach) with your knees bent or on your back with a small pillow under your head and another pillow under your knees.
When can I return to my sport or activity?
The goal of rehabilitation is to return you to your sport or activity as soon as safely possible. If you return too soon too soon you may worsen your injury, which could lead to permanent damage. Everyone recovers from injury at a different rate. Return to your sport will be determined by how soon your herniated disk recovers, not by how many days or weeks it have been since your injury occurred. In general, the longer you have symptoms before you start treatment, the longer it will take to get better. It is important that your herniated disk has fully recovered before you return to any strenuous activity and that you have been seen by your health care provider. You mush be able to perform all or your rehabilitation exercises with out pain. You must have full range of motion of your back and neck and have not shooting pain into your legs or arms. You must be able to run, jump, and twist without any pain.
What can be done to help prevent a herniated disk?
Herniated disks can often be prevented by keeping your weight down, eating a proper diet, and exercising to keep your muscles firm. Strong, flexible muscles can stabilize your spine and protect it form injury. This includes keeping your stomach muscles strong. Walking and swimming are two good exercise for strengthening and protecting your spine.

Pierre Rouzier, M.D. THE SPORTS MEDICINE PATIENT ADVISOR

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