Also called “ruptured”, “bulging” or “slipped” discs, a herniated disc results from a tear in the outer layer of cartilage allowing the softer inner cartilage to leak out. Herniated discs are more likely to cause pain due to compression of a nerve or a painful inflammation of the nerve root. While they may occur in any part of the spine, they are more common in the lower back and neck.
Symptoms may include headaches, pain between shoulder blades, pain and numbness/tingling into the shoulder, arm or fingers. Symptoms may also include weakness in your upper body with your daily activities.
Your doctor will take your medical history, evaluate your symptoms, perform a physical examination, and run diagnostic tests such as X-rays, CAT scans, or MRIs. Your doctor may also perform Electromyogram (EMG) and Nerve Conduction Studies, which measure the electrical impulses along the nerve roots, peripheral nerves, and muscle tissues.
Treatment rarely requires surgery. Initially, treatment includes rest, and low activity for a few days to several weeks to help decrease inflammation in the spinal nerve. You will likely be prescribed a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) for mild to moderate pain. Should the pain worsen, you may need an epidural steroid injection to reduce the symptoms of the disc herniation.
Physical therapy is often recommended and will likely include massage, ice and heat therapy, ultrasound, electrical muscle stimulation, and stretching.
Should surgery be necessary, your health and spinal problem are carefully considered to determine the best approach to returning you to the best quality of life as quickly as possible. You may be recommended for surgery if:
- Your pain limits normal activity or impairs your quality of life
- You have shoulder, arm or hand weakness or numbness
- Difficulty standing or walking
- Medication and physical therapy are ineffective