What is a Herniated Disc?
Between the vertebrae of the spinal column sit rubbery discs which act as cushions for the spine. These discs help your back move smoothly and absorb impacts. Sometimes these discs can bulge outward due to stress or injury, pressing on the spinal nerve and causing pain. These herniations almost always occur in the lower back, or “Lumbar” spine.
What Causes Herniated Discs?
Herniated Discs may occur due to a myriad of reasons. Natural age-related wear and tear remains the most common culprit of disc injuries, with a higher rate of occurence in Men between the ages of 20 and 50. Other factors that could put patients at risk for a herniated disc include: being overweight, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and lifting heavy objects with the back instead of the legs.
How Do Neurosurgeons Treat Herniated Discs?
Neurosurgeons treat herniated discs in a variety of ways, depending most often by the severity of the disc herniation.
First, the physician will want to examine patients thoroughly, testing their leg strength and checking for any loss of sensation in the legs and feet. Physicians will most likely order an MRI scan or CT scan of the patients back to confirm the diagnosis and target the exact disc causing the pain.
Conservative Treatments for a Herniated Disc
For the majority of patients, a herniated disc will slowly heal itself over a period of several weeks, with most symptoms dissipating after 3 to 4 months. For herniations of this type, Neurologists will focus on relieving patients pain during the healing period, prescribing rest and anti-inflammatory medication. Depending on the severity of herniation, A Physician may first attempt a conservitive treatment of epidural steroid injections and a prescribed series of stretches. Although herniated discs can cause excessive pain, most cases will resolve with nonsurgical treatment.
Surgical Treatments for a Herniated Disc
If the severity of the herniation causes patients muscle weakness, difficulty walking, or loss of bladder or bowel control, and conservative treatment fails to relieve pain from the herniated disc, the neurosurgeon may suggest surgery. The type of surgery depends on the injury, ranging from Microdiscectomy to Disc Replacement or Fusion. A Neurosurgeon will perform a Microdiscectomy by opening a small incision in the patients back at the level of the affected disc. They will then arthroscopically remove the piece of the spinal disc pressing on the spinal canal and any other fragments putting pressure on the nerve.
Recovery from a Herniated Disc Surgery
Recovery from Herniated Disc treatment usually involves patients wearing a temporary brace and attending physical therapy. The physical therapist may prescribe patients a simple walking routine as well as certain exercises to help patients regain strength and flexibility in their back and legs. Microdisc surgeries typically have very positive outcomes, talk with your physician about the advantages of both surgical and non-surgical treatment for herniated discs.