Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
When You Have a
What is a herniated disk?
When the soft part between bones in the spine
presses on the nerves around the backbone, it's called a herniated disk. The
word "herniate" (say: her-nee-ate) means to bulge or to stick out. Sometimes
this is called a ruptured disk.
Herniated disks are most common in the lumbar
spine--the part of your backbone between the bottom of your ribs and your hips.
Disks are soft "cushions" between the bones of the spine. The drawing to the
left shows the spine. The spine holds up your body. It also protects your spinal
cord and nerves. The disks in the spine let you move your backbone.
Why does a disk get herniated?
As you grow older, your disks become
flatter--less cushiony. If a disk becomes too weak, the outer part may tear. The
inside part of the disk pushes through the tear and presses on the nerves beside
it. The drawing to the right shows how a disk looks when it gets pushed through
the tear and presses on a nerve. Herniated disks are most common in people in
their 30s and-40s.
What are the signs of a herniated
When part of a disk presses on a nerve, it can
cause pain in both the back and the legs. The location of the pain depends on
which disk is weak. How bad the pain is depends on how much of the disk is
pressing on the nerve. In most people with a herniated disk, the pain spreads
over the buttocks and goes down the back of one thigh and into the calf. Some
people have pain in both legs. Some people's legs or feet feel numb or tingly.
The pain from a herniated disk is usually worse
when you're active and gets better when you're resting. Coughing, sneezing,
sitting, driving and bending forward may make the pain worse. The pain gets
worse when you do these things because they all put more pressure on the nerve.
People with a painful herniated disk often try
to change their position to reduce the pain. You may have found that holding
yourself up with your hands while you are sitting helps the pain. Shifting your
weight to one side may also help.
How does my doctor know I have a
After asking you questions and giving you an
exam, your doctor may take x-rays and other pictures to see if you have a
What can be done for the pain of a
Your doctor may suggest medicine for the pain.
You can probably be more active after you take the pain medicine for 2 days.
Becoming active will help you get better faster. If your pain is very bad, your
doctor may suggest that you rest in bed for 1 or 2 days.
If the pain medicine doesn't help, your doctor
may give you a shot in your backbone. This might stop your pain. You may need
more than 1 shot.
Sometimes stretching of the spine, by your
doctor or a chiropractor, can help the pain.
Will exercises help the pain?
Yes, exercises can be very helpful. Begin by
stretching. Bend over forward and bend to the sides. Start these exercises after
your back is a little stronger and doesn't hurt as much. The goal of exercise is
to make your back and stomach muscles stronger. This will ease the pressure on
your disk and make you hurt less. Ask your doctor about exercises for your back.
Your doctor may want you to see a physical therapist to learn about safe back
What about my posture?
Good posture (standing up straight, sitting
straight, lifting things with your back straight) can help your back. Bend your
knees and hips when you lift something and keep your back straight. Hold an
object close to your body when you carry it. If you stand for a long time, put
one foot on a small stool or box for a while. If you sit for a long time, put
your feet on a small stool so your knees are higher than your hips. Don't wear
high-heeled shoes. Don't sleep on your stomach. These things can put more
pressure on your disks. The pictures on this page show good posture in standing
What are my chances of getting
Your chances are good. Most people with a
herniated disk are better in about 4 weeks. Sometimes it takes longer. If you
still have pain or numbness after 4 to 6 weeks, or if your signs get worse, talk
with your doctor. Sometimes it takes surgery to relieve pain.
If you have trouble going to the bathroom, or
have weight loss, pain at night or more pain or weakness than usual in your
backbone, tell your doctor right away. These might be the signs of a more