What is the process for diagnosing a herniated disc?

In order to receive an accurate diagnosis of spine conditions like a herniated disc, it is always necessary to visit a medical professional. The symptoms commonly associated with a herniated disc can also be caused by other spine conditions or injuries, so it is important to receive the correct diagnosis before pursuing treatment. Learning more about the diagnosis process for a herniated disc can help reduce anxiety about seeing a doctor while making you more informed and engaged in developing a treatment plan.

Review of symptoms and medical history

The first step in a herniated disc diagnosis process is to discuss symptoms and review your medical history with your doctor. This typically involves a question-and-answer session to better understand your condition, symptoms, previously attempted treatments and overall health. Your doctor may also look for certain lifestyle factors that may contribute to spine deterioration, such as obesity, alcohol or tobacco use or frequent participation in high-impact sports. Family medical history is also important because there is evidence that spine conditions are inheritable.

Physical examination

Next, your doctor will perform a thorough physical examination. The goal of this exam is to test range of motion, neurological function, reflexes and the overall strength of the neck and back. This portion of the exam may be somewhat uncomfortable for the patient, but can provide valuable information that is required to confirm the diagnosis.

Medical imaging and other tests

Finally, you may be referred to receive a medical scan to confirm the herniated disc diagnosis. In some cases, these scans can be done on-site, while in other cases, you may be referred to a medical imaging center. An X-ray can show a loss in disc height or the presence of bone spurs, while an MRI or CT scan is useful for seeing a three-dimensional view of the spinal column and the actual herniated disc. Your doctor may also perform blood tests, nerve-conduction tests or nerve-blocking injections depending on the nature and severity of your symptoms.

Treatment for a herniated disc

Upon confirming a herniated disc as the underlying cause of your symptoms, your doctor should help you develop an initial course of treatment to relieve any symptoms you’re experiencing. Conservative therapies include rest, ice packs, exercise, medication, massage and physical therapy. You may be referred to a specialist, or start to explore surgery yourself, if conservative treatment does not bring the relief you require for a good quality of life.

If you receive a herniated disc diagnosis and ever get to a point where surgery becomes an option, contact Laser Spine Institute before you undergo a highly invasive traditional open spine procedure. Our minimally invasive outpatient surgery is performed by board-certified surgeons+ in state-of-the-art surgery centers across the United States.

Find out if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures by asking for your no-cost MRI review.* 

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