A herniated disk occurs when the outer ring of one of the individual bones (vertebrae) that makeup the spine is damaged, causing the gel inside the bone to push out through a crack in the outer ring. A herniated disk may irritate adjacent nerves, causing pain, numbness or weakness in the arms or legs.
The most common underlying cause of a herniated disk is the gradual damage and loss of flexibility as a result of aging. This is called disk degeneration, and it makes vertebrae more likely to tear or rupture with even a minor strain or twist.
Lifting heavy objects, especially twisting while supporting the weight, can cause the tears and ruptures of a herniated disk.
Risk factors for herniated disk including the following conditions:
- Obesity, which puts increased stress on the lower back
- Physically demanding jobs, especially those involving repetitive lifting, pulling or pushing
- Genetic factors
Treatment of Herniated Disks
Some herniated disks are relatively mild and can be treated with over-the-counter pain medication. Other forms require more powerful drugs, such as muscle relaxers, cortisone injections or narcotics, such as codeine, morphine, OxyContin or Percocet.
Physical therapists may recommend a variety of treatments for herniated disks, including the following:
- Heat or ice treatment
- Traction (a mechanism to pull a vertebrae back in place and hold it there)
- Electrical stimulation
- Bracing of the neck or lower back
If these treatments are not effective, surgery may be needed. Surgery on a herniated disk usually involves removing the protruding material from the vertebrae. In extreme cases the entire vertebrae may be removed and replaced by an artificial disk.
At Houston Methodist a multidisciplinary team works together to find the right treatment for your herniated disk and to ensure the best possible care for each patient.
Our physicians at Houston Methodist specialize in treating herniated disks at the following convenient locations