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Does a Herniated Disc Automatically Mean You Need Surgery?

Maybe you’ve been having some pain in your back, or some tingling in your legs or butt. You’ve done some quick internet research and keep coming back to a herniated disc as a possible diagnosis. Now you’re in a panic. What does that even mean, and what are you supposed to do about it? Will you need to have surgery?

The “disc” in herniated disc refers to the individual cushions found between every pair of vertebrae in your spine. They’re there to keep the boney pieces from banging against each other, acting as the original shock absorber. They work well until they’re damaged or wear down. That’s when tears can happen and the soft center comes through. It’s fine as long as it’s just hanging there, but if it comes into contact with a nerve, you’re going to know about it.

The symptoms of a herniated disc generally depend on what part of the spine it impacts. When a disc is herniated in the cervical spine (up by your neck), you’re likely to feel shoulder or arm pain. If you herniate a disc in your lower back you’re going to feel pain, tingling, weakness or numbness from the butt down, all the way to your feet. The more the disc material pushes into the nerve, the more discomfort you’re going to have.

Using Google to diagnose yourself can be fun, but it doesn’t provide you with a positive diagnosis, and it definitely doesn’t give you an answer to what to do next. If you are having symptoms and you suspect a herniated disc, your smartest move is to make an appointment with a spine specialist who can run tests and tell you exactly what you’re dealing with, as well as what treatment options are most appropriate. The good news is that a herniated disc does not always mean surgery. In fact, there are a lot of conservative treatments that work very well and can alleviate your pain.

For most patients, the first thing that is suggested are medications. These can include everything from over-the-counter anti-inflammatories to narcotics and muscle relaxers. These are generally short-term solutions, and if they don’t provide relief your physician is likely to discontinue them and turn to other options including cortisone injections or physical therapy. It’s not until these other treatments fail to provide relief that the subject of surgery generally arises, and then it is usually in the form of a minimally invasive procedure from which patients are generally able to recover very quickly.

If you’ve been dealing with any of the symptoms described above and are looking for answers, the best way to get them is to make an appointment with our spine specialist for a thorough examination. We will determine the source of your pain and discomfort and come up with a treatment plan that will get you feeling normal again quickly.