A herniated disk is a disk that has bulged out from its proper place in your back. Disks are small, circular cushions between the bones of the spine (vertebrae). Normally, disks act as shock absorbers to cushion your vertebrae from each other as you move. When a disk is herniated, it may press on nearby nerves and cause severe pain. Sometimes a herniated disk is called a ruptured disk. Disks can also cause pain when they bulge from their normal position without completely rupturing.
A disk can become herniated when it is injured. 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 herniated disk may also just happen without any specific injury.
If your herniated disk is in your back, your symptoms may develop gradually or start suddenly. Symptoms include:
Symptoms of a herniated disk in your neck may also develop gradually or suddenly. These symptoms can include neck pain, stiffness, decreased range of motion or numbness, tingling, or weakness in one or both arms.
Your healthcare provider will review your symptoms and ask about your pain. Then he or she will examine your spine and test the movement and reflexes in your arms and legs. You may have one or more of the following tests:
In most cases, treatment without surgery will relieve your pain.
For a herniated disk in your back, your healthcare provider may recommend bed rest for 1 to 2 days. You may lie flat on your back on a firm mattress or on an ordinary bed with a stiff board under the mattress. Your provider may suggest putting a pillow under your knees when you lie on your back. You may also lie on your belly with a pillow under your chest or on your side with a pillow between your legs. Use the position that is most comfortable for you.
Other treatments your provider may recommend for your back are:
Treatment for a herniated disk in your neck may include:
As your pain lessens, your healthcare provider will want you to start a physical therapy program to strengthen and stabilize your muscles and joints. This therapy involves learning how to control the movement of your spine in all recreation and work activities.
If you keep having symptoms, you may need to have surgery. However, most people who have herniated disks do not need surgery.
The initial intense pain should go away within a few weeks, but you may keep having some pain for a few months. You may be prone to backaches throughout your life, so it is important to remember to protect your spine when you are lifting or being physically active.
If you keep having weakness and numbness in your legs or if you lose control of your bowel or bladder function, contact your healthcare provider right away.
Practice correct posture when you are walking, sitting, standing, lying down, or working.
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 from injury. This includes keeping your stomach muscles strong. Walking and swimming are two good exercises for strengthening and protecting your spine.