Pain in your back/leg or neck/arm because of a herniated disc isn’t something you have to live with. University of Iowa Health Care spine specialists can help.
Lifestyle changes, physical therapy, and medications can help resolve most herniated disc pain. Our spine health experts will customize a treatment plan for you.
If you need surgery, our highly experienced neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons can work to develop a surgical approach to address your pain. While some procedures can be done in our ambulatory surgical center as an outpatient procedure, our team also specializes in larger revision surgeries.
Herniated disc symptoms
Your spine is made up of bones called vertebrae. The vertebrae form a column that protects the spinal cord. Between each pair of vertebrae is an intervertebral disc. These discs allow your back to flex so you can bend, turn, and reach.
A herniated disc is a disc that either bulges or protrudes into the spina canal compression on spinal nerves. It is sometimes referred to as a slipped disc.
What a herniated disc feels like
A herniated, bulging, or ruptured disc can put pressure on the nerves of your spinal cord, causing pain, numbness, or weakness.
Herniated discs happen most frequently in the lower back and in the neck.
Pain from a herniated disc usually occurs on one side of your body.
- A herniated disc in your lower back may cause sharp pain in your leg, hip, or buttocks. You may experience numbness elsewhere, and your leg may also feel weak.
- A herniated disc in your neck can cause pain in your neck or near your shoulder blade. The pain may move to your upper arm, forearm, and fingers. You might also feel numbness in your shoulder, elbow, forearm, and fingers.
- Loss of bladder or bowel control is a rare symptom of a herniated disc and requires immediate medical attention.
Common activities such as standing, sitting, walking, reaching, sleeping, coughing, sneezing, and laughing can make the pain worse.
Herniated disc diagnosis at UI Health Care
Correct diagnosis is critical in deciding how to treat any back or neck pain. It’s important to choose an experienced spine specialist like the experts on the UI Health Care team.
Your doctor will perform a thorough physical examination. You’ll also have a set of X-ray images taken to see how your spine moves and its overall alignment. You may also have a CT scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
You may also have an electromyogram (EMG) or nerve conduction study in order to see where your pain is coming from. The study can show whether a herniated disc is pressing on a nerve or your spinal cord or if the nerve is being pressed on in another location.
Herniated disc treatment from UI Health Care
How your doctor decides to treat a herniated disc depends on how much the disc is damaged. Spine surgery is necessary in only about 10% of cases.
Nonsurgical herniated disc treatments
The first line of treatment will be a nonsurgical approach. Your doctor could prescribe one or more of the following:
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise. Losing weight can help decrease the pressure on your discs.
- Physical therapy
- Steroid injections into your back to decrease nerve inflammation
If these treatments don’t help, your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure.
Surgical herniated disc treatments
Most surgical treatments for a herniated disc can be performed as minimally invasive procedures.
In these surgeries, spine specialists use tiny instruments placed through a small incision in your back, neck, or abdomen.
- Discectomy is the most common surgery for a herniated disc in the lower back. Your spine surgeon will remove the bulging part of the disc.
- In a laminectomy, or decompression surgery, your surgeon removes the back part of the vertebra, called the lamina.
- A spinal fusion procedure is one in which your surgeon joins two or more vertebrae together with screws and rods or plate to make your spine more stable. This procedure could be performed through an incision in your back, neck, or abdomen.
Recovery from herniated disc surgery
Your recovery time will depend on your overall health and the type of surgery you have. After your surgery, you may need to wear a brace. Your surgeon may also prescribe physical therapy to help you get stronger and more flexible.