How to heal a herniated disc quickly
A herniated disc occurs when the soft center of a vertebral disc, called the nucleus, leaks out of a tear in the casing of the spinal column. Sometimes herniated discs occur without any pain or other symptoms. However, in some cases, they cause pain, numbness, or weakness.
There is no "quick fix" for a herniated disc. Some herniated discs, also called slipped discs, heal on their own in a few weeks to a few months. The best way to foster healing in these cases is to rest, avoid activities that cause pain, and take over-the-counter pain killers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve symptoms.
During your home treatment, you can also:
- Alternate applying heat and cold.
- Stay as active as you can. Take walks to avoid becoming too stiff from resting too often.
- Try alternative treatments like acupuncture, massage, or chiropractic.
If your symptoms do not go away after a few months, your doctor may recommend other treatments, including:
- Corticosteroid injections
- Muscle relaxants
- Prescription-strength pain killers
If your symptoms are still present after these interventions, your doctor may recommend physical therapy. You will work with a physical therapist to learn exercises that can minimize pain from a slipped disc and strengthen your back muscles to foster healing.
It is unlikely you will need surgery for a herniated disc. However, it is usually recommended in cases of slipped discs when:
- You have severe pain that doesn't get better with other treatments
- You have a lot of numbness or weakness in your limbs
- You can't walk
- Your slipped disc presses on nerves that cause you to lose control of your bladder or bowels
During slipped disc surgery, your doctor will remove the part of the disc that protrudes from your spine. In rare cases, the surgeon removes the entire disc and fuses two vertebrae with metal hardware or inserts an artificial disc.
What are the symptoms of a herniated disc?
Herniated disc symptoms include:
Where your symptoms occur depends on where the herniation is on your spine. For example, if your slipped disc is in your upper back or neck, you may have symptoms in your arms or neck. If it is in your lower back, you may have symptoms in your hips or legs.
Typically, herniated disc symptoms get worse with activity and improve with rest.
Who is at risk?
People who perform repetitive motions are most at risk for a herniated disc, especially if these movements involve lifting heavy objects or twisting while holding something heavy.
Sometimes, one severe incident can cause a disc injury. However, it is more often a result of disc degeneration over time. Repeated use makes a rupture more likely to happen from a small movement or minor incident.
People who drive a lot may also be at increased risk due to prolonged sitting and agitation from the vibrations of the car's motor.
Some people also have a genetic tendency to slipped discs. If you are overweight or smoke, you may have an increased risk of developing a slipped disc.
Men between the ages of 20 and 50 have the most significant risk of developing this condition.
When should you see your doctor?
Most of the time, you can treat back pain at home without seeing a doctor. However, you should get medical advice if:
- Your pain is so severe that you can't go to work or do basic self-care tasks.
- Your symptoms don't get better after six weeks of home treatment.
- You can not walk or stand well.
- Your symptoms are getting worse.
- You lose control of your bladder or bowel movements.
- You have tingling, numbness, or weakness in your extremities. This could be a sign of another condition.
How do doctors diagnose a slipped disc?
If you have neck or back pain that doesn't get better with home treatment, your doctor may order tests to find the cause of your pain.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This device creates detailed images of a targeted area of your body. Doctors can use it to look at your spine and find any abnormalities.
- X-rays: Sometimes, asymptomatic herniated discs are discovered when you have an x-ray of your abdomen or back for a different reason.
- Computed tomography (CT): This type of scan looks at the bones of your spine to find any issues.
- Myelogram: This test uses contrast dye to identify any narrowing of the spinal canal to find a herniated disc.
- Electromyogram: This test can help doctors pinpoint which nerves are affected by a herniated disc.
Herniated disc prevention
Follow these lifestyle tips to prevent a herniated disc:
- Maintain a strong core, including your abs, back muscles, and glutes, to keep your spine strong and healthy.
- Take care of your posture. Sit up straight and lift heavy things with your legs, not your back.
- Keep your weight in check. Extra weight on your body can put more stress on your spine.
- Stretch frequently, especially if you sit in the same position for long periods.
- Smoking can weaken your spinal discs, so quitting smoking can help avoid a herniated disc.
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