How your physician confirms a herniated disc diagnosis

A herniated disc is a disc in the spine that has undergone serious damage, including the tearing of the outer wall of the disc and the leaking of the inner disc fluid. While this condition can sometimes be caused by sudden trauma or injury, it is often caused by the natural aging and degeneration of the spine that weakens the discs over time.

On its own, a herniated disc does not cause pain or symptoms. However, if the damaged disc material or protruded inner disc nucleus compresses a nerve root, severe pain and discomfort in the neck or back can occur. Typically, these symptoms are an indicator for people to schedule an appointment with their primary care physician to confirm a diagnosis for a herniated disc.

Diagnostic methods

Most herniated disc cases 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 physician for treatment options to reduce the pain and symptoms while the body heals.

Before prescribing treatment, the herniated disc diagnosis has to be confirmed. Your physician may use the following diagnostic methods:

  • 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.

Responding to a herniated disc diagnosis

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

If these and other conservative methods prove ineffective after several months, a physician may recommend surgery as an option. In this situation, the minimally invasive spine surgery at Laser Spine Institute is often the clinically appropriate first choice over traditional open back surgery because our procedures offer 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 an effective treatment option. Many cases of a herniated disc can be treated with a decompression surgery, though some severely herniated discs may need a stabilization surgery to replace the disc with an artificial one.

To start your journey to wellness and pain relief, contact our Care Team at Laser Spine Institute today. We can review your MRI report or CT scan to determine if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery.

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