A herniated disk is a painful medical condition where the soft tissue that is protected by cartilage in between spinal vertebra cracks or ruptures and leaks fluid into the area. This reduces the cushion the disk provides and creates pressure on the spinal column, causing nerve pain and misaligned vertebrae. For extreme cases, surgery may be required, but many people can find a cure through conservative treatment programs.
It is important to limit activity to things that do not aggravate symptoms. Bending, lifting and reaching can cause more fluid to be compressed out and not allow the disk to heal. Resting completely isn’t the solution. You still need physical movement to keep the rest of the body and spine strong enough to offer support for the injured area. Icing and ibuprofen can help to reduce swelling and ease pain. A physical therapy regimen may be prescribed to help you strengthen the right muscles and return to full mobility.
Physical therapy will include moderate exercises to strengthen the abdomen and other back muscles, as well as stretching to maintain flexibility. It is important to build a strong core to reduce stress on the herniated disk. Depending on the severity of your herniation and your doctor’s recommendation, many exercises may be held off until healing is advancing. In the mean time, you will have a series of ice and heat applications as well as ultrasound and electrical stimulation to increase blood flow and reduce pain.
You will also be given positions to sit or lay in while at home that reduce the stress and compression on the herniated disk. Your condition should improve within six weeks. If it doesn’t, go back to your doctor.
According to the Mayo Clinic, approximately 10 percent of those with herniated disks will require surgery at some point in time. If conservative treatment and physical therapy don’t improve the situation and prescription pain relievers and muscle relaxers have not worked, your doctor may look at surgery as an option. The most common surgery is a microdiscectomy that removes part of the spinal vertebra to get to the herniated disk to remove the portion that is herniated. Patients are under general anesthesia with most patients going home the same day or within 24 hours.