Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Is surgery needed to correct a herniated disk?"
I am a 48 year old woman with a herniated disk. Will I need surgery?
A herniated disc (also known as a slipped disc, or a bulging disc) is a common back problem and can be quite painful. The "disc" that is referred to is the cartilage between the vertebrae of your spine. Inside the cartilage is a liquid type substance called the nucleus pulposus.
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Sometimes when the back is injured from a fall, or while lifting something heavy, the nucleus pulposus gets placed under pressure and it squeezes out forming a bulge that sticks out from the disc. Sometimes this bulge compresses one of the nerves that is exiting the spinal cord. This nerve compression can be quite painful and cause shooting pains that go down the legs on one side. The best initial therapy for a herniated disc is anti-inflammatory medications (such as ibuprofen) and physical therapy. For most patients, this will eventually result in resolution of their symptoms, as the herniated disc fixes itself. In certain circumstances, the pain does not get better with physical therapy and patient occasionally require surgical therapy. I suggest that you schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. He or she can prescribe pain medication and give you a referral to physical therapy so that you can begin feeling better. Good luck.
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