Does My Herniated Disk Require Surgery?

It’s a condition that goes by several names including slipped disk, or herniated disk. Whatever it is called, if you’re suffering from it, it’s likely causing pain. Let’s briefly look at the anatomy behind the injury, how common it is, and what the options are for treating it.

Disks: Seat Cushions For Your Back and Neck

Your spinal column, which runs from your lower back and includes the neck, is made up of 33 vertebrae, or bones that are stacked on top of one another. Between each vertebra is a disk, serving as a cushion between the bones. The disk has two parts: a rubbery exterior and a gelatin-like interior (go here for a more detailed explanation). As we age, the gelatin begins to decrease, so the disk becomes harder, less flexible and more prone to injury.

“It’s pretty simple to understand, but painful to experience,” says MPT owner and rehabilitation expert Beth Winkler-Schmit. “The disk material pushes out and it can compress or pinch a spinal nerve, causing pain. If it’s severe enough, it can cause a lot of pain, decreased strength and numbness in one or both legs.” *

 

How Common is a Herniated Disk and What Causes It?

Most Americans, between 60-80 percent, will suffer low back pain sometime during their lives and herniated disks are one of the primary causes. There are many contributing factors, which increase your risk for developing a herniated disk.

 

  • Age and gender: most herniated disks occur between the ages of 30 to 50 years old and are more common in men.
  • Obesity: extra weight puts more pressure on your spinal column and the disks
  • Occupation
  • Low levels of physical activity or more sedentary activity: less active people have less ability to handle strenuous physical demands on the body.

Surgery?

Not often. In most cases, conservative, non-surgical treatment, which usually includes physical therapy, will resolve the problem. A physical therapist can evaluate a patient’s spinal mobility and strength to determine what’s involved—joints, muscles, nerves or a combination—and then map out a treatment for the injury.

“Most of the time restoring spinal mobility and strength can significantly decrease and even eliminate pain and other symptoms,” says Winkler-Schmit

* If you are experiencing decreased strength, numbness or bowel or bladder control issues, consult your physician as soon as possible.

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