An In-Depth Look at Disc Herniation
Follow along as spine surgeon, Dr. Jason Ferrel, gives a comprehensive overview of lumbar disc herniations. Dr. Ferrel discusses the signs and
symptoms associated with lumbar disc herniations, the variety of treatment
options available, what to expect when surgical intervention is required, and
the typical recovery process after surgery.
Disc herniation happens when the disc or “spacers” between the vertebrate have a defect that causes the disc to bulge out of its normal position. When the misaligned disc irritates the nerve that runs from the lower back, through the buttocks, and down the leg, it is called sciatica.
Symptoms often include the following and can impact the hips, buttocks, legs, and feet:
What Can Cause a Disc Herniation?
While some patients with a disc herniation can recall a specific injury that occurred (often while lifting, bending, or twisting) others report that the onset of pain or other symptoms came on in the absence of a traumatic event.
Think of a disc herniation like the tread on a tire. Sometimes a driver may run over an object causing a puncture, while other times the tread simply wears out over time.
When Should a Patient Seek Treatment?
A reassuring fact about disc herniations is that the body oftentimes has the ability to heal this ailment on its own. Patients usually seek treatment a few days to a few weeks after the onset of symptoms if they experience a higher level of discomfort or difficulty performing daily activities.
However, there are a few red flags that may prompt patients to expedite seeking treatment. These include:
- Severe pain
- New numbness
- New weakness
- History of trauma
- Night sweats
- History of cancer
- Ongoing infection
- Sudden weight loss
- Night pain
- Loss of control of the bladder/bowels
- Numbness around the bottom/genitals
- Progressive neurological symptoms
- A compromised immune system
- IV drug/illicit drug use
What are Treatment Options for a Lumbar Disc Herniation?
In most cases, treatment is not medically necessary and the body will heal on its own within 6-12 weeks. However, patients who experience a heightened level of pain or discomfort may try one or a combination of the following treatment methods.
- Medications such as steroids, NSAIDs, Tylenol, nerve medications, and muscle relaxants can be used short term to make patients more comfortable as they heal.
- In some cases, Physical Therapy can also expedite healing
- Lumbar Epidural Steroid Injections can also reduce the swelling and inflammation in cases where the symptoms are not improving with time, physical therapy, or medication.
What if a Patient Requires Surgery?
Disc herniation surgery is a minimally invasive procedure that relieves the pressure on the nerves that causes pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness.
What is the Recovery Time for a Disc Herniation Surgery?
Disc herniation surgery takes about 45 minutes to complete and usually takes place in a surgery center or other outpatient facility. Patients are typically able to move and walk with the assistance of a physical therapist shortly after surgery and go home later the same day.
Most patients utilize pain medication in the first 3-4 days after surgery and can start doing simple activities like walking and other basic movements pretty quickly.
Depending on their occupation, the majority of patients can return to work a few weeks after surgery and can resume most physical activities after about six weeks.
Lumbar disc herniation treatment options allow these patients, who often skew younger and more active, to get back to enjoying their lives in an effective way!