How your physician confirms a herniated disc diagnosis

A herniated disc occurs when the inner material of a spinal disc begins to push out through a crack or tear in the outer layer. While sudden trauma or injury can be contributors, a herniated disc is often primarily caused by the natural aging and degeneration of the spine that weakens the discs over time.

On its own, a herniated disc does not necessarily cause pain or symptoms. However, if displaced disc material compresses a nerve root or the spinal cord, severe pain and discomfort in the neck or back can occur. Typically, people receive a herniated disc diagnosis after seeing their physician regarding debilitating symptoms that have not improved in a short period of time.

Diagnostic methods

Herniated disc cases can resolve themselves through a process known as resorption, where the body recognizes the damaged disc and absorbs the disc material into the bloodstream. However, this process may take several months before the disc is fully healed. In the meantime, you can seek help from your doctor for treatment options to reduce the pain and symptoms while the body heals.

Before prescribing treatment, the herniated disc diagnosis has to be confirmed by a physician. Doctors will usually follow these diagnostic steps:

  • A physical exam. Once you explain your symptoms to your physician, he or she will likely examine the areas where you feel pain, tingling, numbness and weakness, such as your lower back, legs and feet, or your shoulders, arms and hands.
  • Strength and reflexes. Your physician will test whether your muscle strength is weaker in some areas than in others, or whether your reflexes are slow or missing.
  • Range of motion. You may be asked to stand, walk and sit. Your physician also may ask you to move your neck and lower back forward, backward and side to side. Finally, you may be asked to perform more specific motions like walking on your toes, walking on your heels and raising your shoulders.
  • Diagnostic testing. A blood test may be performed to rule out other causes, while diagnostic imagery like an X-ray, CT scan or MRI can positively identify the location and degree of the herniated disc.

Responding to a herniated disc diagnosis

After your physician confirms a herniated disc diagnosis, you can expect to work with him or her to determine the best course of treatment. This normally begins with conservative therapies, including anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy, exercise, stretching and corticosteroid injections.

If these and other conservative methods prove ineffective after several weeks or months, a physician may recommend surgery as an option. In this situation, the minimally invasive spine surgery at Laser Spine Institute is a safer and effective alternative compared to traditional open back surgery, offering our patients a shorter recovery time and lower risk of complication.^

Depending on the location and severity of your condition, a minimally invasive decompression surgery or a minimally invasive stabilization surgery may be recommended. Many cases of a herniated disc can be treated with a decompression surgery, though some severely herniated discs may need a stabilization surgery to fully remove a damaged disc and stabilize the vertebral segment. To start your journey to wellness and pain relief, contact our dedicated team today.

We can offer a free MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery.

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