How does a physician diagnose a herniated disc in the back?

Diagnosing a herniated disc is the first step to finding a treatment for pain relief. Maybe you have researched the possible reasons for your chronic back pain and stiffness, and you’ve determined that you probably have a herniated disc somewhere in your middle or lower back (lumbar spine). While you may be correct, you should schedule an appointment with your physician to receive an official diagnosis for the cause of your symptoms.

Your physician will diagnose whether or not you have a herniated disc through a series of exams. These exams generally start with some questions to help your doctor understand what you’re experiencing and if anything in your current lifestyle or medical history is contributing to these symptoms. Then, a physical exam and medical imaging test may be performed to get a clearer view of what is happening in your spine.

Understanding what to expect during your appointment can help ease your mind and move your focus to finding effective pain relief.

Question-and-answer session

To begin with, your physician may ask a series of questions to help him or her have a better understanding of your symptoms. Your answers could provide the information your physician needs to definitively diagnose you with a herniated disc in your back. These questions may include:

  • Can you describe your symptoms?
  • On a scale of one to 10, how severe is your pain?
  • Where are you experiencing your symptoms?
  • Did a car accident, athletic injury or other trauma precede these symptoms?
  • Have any members of your family been diagnosed with a degenerative spine condition?
  • Do you use tobacco products or abuse alcohol?
  • Do you have a sedentary lifestyle?
  • Do you or have you ever played high-impact sports?
  • Do you have a job that requires lifting heavy weights or frequent bending or twisting?

Imaging tests

Based on the information that you provide during the question-and-answer session, your physician may order a diagnostic test such as an MRI or CT scan. These tests will provide your physician with a look inside your body to determine if a herniated disc or other degenerative spine condition is the cause of your pain.

If you’re diagnosed with a herniated disc

If your physician diagnoses you with a herniated disc in your back, you may be recommended to begin a series of conservative treatments, such as:

  • Physical therapy
  • Pain medication
  • Lifestyle changes like weight loss
  • Low-impact exercises
  • Stretching and yoga

These treatments are often effective at relieving herniated disc pain after several months of continued use. However, if the pain does not decrease, you may be a candidate for the minimally invasive spine surgery offered at Laser Spine Institute.

Our patients can experience peace of mind knowing that our procedures offer a shorter recovery time,^ lower risk of complication and a safer and effective alternative to traditional open back surgery. Depending on the severity of your condition, you may be recommended to undergo a minimally invasive spine surgery. Our team will discuss your candidacy for one of our procedures after reviewing your MRI report or CT scan. While many of our patients are recommended for a decompression surgery, some patients require a stabilization surgery. Both procedures are often the clinically appropriate first choice over traditional open back surgery and fusion, respectively.

To see if you are a candidate for one of our procedures, contact Laser Spine Institute today. We can review your MRI report or CT scan and help you make a confident decision about your spine care treatment.

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