We’ve all experienced back pain and stiffness. A twinge in our back while working in the garden or after a long day on the golf course is normal. But if back pain keeps you up at night or makes it hard for you to get through the day, it’s time to find and treat the cause.
Our spinal discs are made of very tough ligaments that sit between our spinal bones. In 40% of people, a small bump can form at the disc. This is called a disc herniation, also referred to as a slipped or ruptured disc. Sometimes this bump creates swelling and irritation around the nerve contributing to pain.
We can treat even the most severe herniated discs by creating personalized treatment plans that include orthotics and physical therapy. Together, we’ll start working toward the goal of helping you feel better from your first appointment.
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Common signs and symptoms of a herniated disc include:
- Pain in the back, commonly on one side of the body
- Tingling or numbness in the arms or legs
- Muscle weakness in one arm or leg
- Pain that radiates through the neck, shoulders or arm
- Pain that gets worse at night or during certain activities
- Loss of bladder or bowel control (seek immediate medical assistance if you experience this symptom, as it may be a sign of a serious condition)
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s time to make an appointment with an orthopedist.
Over time, the discs in our spine wear out, which is called disc degeneration. Wear and tear on the spinal sacs makes them less flexible and more likely to tear.
Even though disc degeneration is a normal part of aging, not everyone will experience a herniated disc in their lifetime. If you have back pain and suspect you have a herniated disc, our orthopedic doctors can help by creating a customized treatment plan, focused on helping you move through your day comfortably and confidently.
We’ll recommend a customized treatment plan based on your symptoms and lifestyle. Common treatments for a herniated disc include:
Physical therapy is a type of treatment that uses targeted exercises, education and healing touch to improve your strength and manage pain. Our physical therapists will guide you through exercises designed to build your back and core muscles to better support your spine. We’ll also work with you to improve your flexibility and range of motion.
During your sessions, we’ll teach you about herniated disc causes, how to prevent back injuries and how to get back to your routine with confidence. We’ll also provide a customized home exercise plan so you can continue to heal between sessions. It usually takes about six sessions to complete your treatment plan, but many people start feeling relief from their first visit.
We use a variety of therapies to help support your recovery, including pool therapy, sports medicine, Pilates therapy and yoga therapy. For chronic neck and back pain, we also offer our TRIA Neck and Back Strengthening Program, formerly known as the Physicians Neck and Back Center (PNBC). You do not need a referral to make an appointment with one of our physical therapists.
As spinal discs wear out, they can become inflamed and swollen, causing them to press painfully against the nerves in your back. Anti-inflammatory medicines, like prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), can reduce swelling and manage pain.
We may also recommend the supplement glucosamine, a natural substance found in healthy cartilage, to manage inflammation and promote the growth of healthy tissue.
In some cases, we may need to use corticosteroids in or near the affected area to reduce inflammation. These injections are often used when oral medications don’t provide effective pain relief.
Orthotics, like back braces, can support your spine or limit movement to help the herniated disc heal. We might recommend a brace or other advanced support be used during certain activities, like walking or lifting, or in some cases, worn throughout the day.
Our team of board-certified orthotists work with our patients to ensure a perfect fit of all braces.
In some cases, we might recommend surgery to treat your herniated disc. At TRIA, we’ll never push you toward surgery unless it’s the most effective treatment for you. The most common surgeries we perform include:
A microdiscectomy is a procedure where we will remove the damaged part of the herniated disc to relieve pressure on your spinal column. This is a minimally invasive procedure where we will make the smallest incision possible to remove the tissue, reducing your recovery time.
The vast majority of patients who have a microdiscectomy to treat a herniated disc enjoy long-term pain relief.
Spinal fusion surgery is where we connect or “fuse” part of the spine together, which stops the damaged disc from moving and relieves pain. During surgery, we’ll use bone or bone-like material to permanently connect two or more of the bones in your spine (vertebrae).
Spinal fusion is commonly an outpatient procedure. This means that the procedure is done in a clinic and you can go home the same day as your surgery.
A laminectomy is a surgery used to relieve pressure in the spinal column caused by a herniated disc and other conditions. During a laminectomy, we’ll remove part of the bones (vertebrae) in your spine, reducing pressure on your spinal column by making more room for the herniated disc.
A laminectomy is most commonly recommended when other treatments haven’t relieved discomfort caused by a herniated disc.
At TRIA, we have many specialized programs that help our patients recover from a herniated disc. These programs may be recommended in addition to your treatment plan.
Integrative medicine uses holistic treatments that are scientifically proven to help reduce pain and promote healing, including acupuncture, healing touch, our living well consults and others.
The TRIA Pain Management Program is made up of fellowship-trained doctors, physical therapists and psychologists who offer the most current and effective medical interventions and therapies.
We’ll start with a physical exam to evaluate your back and talk with you about your symptoms. In some cases, we’ll use tests to confirm your back condition is a herniated disc. Imaging tests like an X-ray, computed tomography (CT) scan or myelogram can be helpful in diagnosing the cause.
A myelogram is an imaging test where we inject a small amount of contrast dye before an X-ray or CT scan, allowing us to get a more detailed image of your spine. Depending on the results of these tests, we might need to perform a nerve conduction study or other additional tests to confirm your diagnosis.
No, a bulging disc is different from a herniated disc. A herniated disc is when a spinal disc has a hole or tear in its outer layer, causing the fluid inside the disc to leak into the spinal canal. A bulging disc is when the disc sags or bulges into the spinal canal, putting pressure on the walls of the spinal canal.
If you think you may have a herniated disc or a bulging disc, consider making an appointment with one of our doctors. We’ll be able to diagnose the issue and guide you toward the best treatment options for your condition.
The only way to know if you need surgery to treat a herniated disc is to talk with one of our orthopedic surgeons. Our orthopedic surgeons are experts in examining back conditions, creating nonsurgical treatment plans and, when necessary, discussing whether surgery is the best course of treatment for you.
At TRIA, we’ll never push you toward surgery, and we can treat herniated discs with nonsurgical treatments in many cases. When surgery is necessary, we’ll talk with you about what the surgery entails, why it is the best option for you, and answer any questions you may have.
We accept most health insurance plans, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, CIGNA, HealthPartners, Medica, Medicare, Medicare Advantage, PreferredOne and many others.
You can check with your insurance to see if your plan covers part or all of the services needed. Call the number on the back of your card for help looking at your options.
Don’t have your card in front of you? Here are member services numbers to help you get started:
- HealthPartners: 800-883-2177
- HealthPartners Medicare plans: Visit our contact page
- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota: 800-382-2000
- CIGNA: 800-244-6224 (insurance through work); 866-494-2111 (insurance directly or through the Exchange)
- Medica: 800-952-3455
- Medicare: 1-800-MEDICARE
- PreferredOne: 763-847-4477 (in the Twin Cities); 800-997-1750 (outside the metro area)