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.