Herniated Intervertebral Disk 

A herniated disk happens when a spinal disk tears. Spinal disks are gel-filled cushions that sit between the bones of the spine (vertebrae). If a disk tears, the center may bulge out. The disk may then press on nearby nerves. This can cause severe pain. Numbness or tingling in an arm or leg may also occur.

You may need X-rays of the spine. If you've had the pain for a few weeks and it is not getting better after treatment, you may need an MRI scan. Treatment for a herniated disk often includes pain medicines and home care. Surgery is not often done to treat a herniated disk unless the nerve problem is causing weakness or numbness.

Home care

Medicines may be prescribed to help ease pain, spasm, and swelling. You may be given a prescription. Or you may be told to use an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Take all medicines as directed.

For neck pain:

  • Use a pillow that supports your head and keeps your spine in a neutral position. Don't tilt your head forward or backward.

For back pain:

  • Try not to sit for long periods, especially if your low back is affected. Sitting puts more stress on the low back than standing or walking.

  • Sleep on a firm mattress with a pillow under your knees.

  • Have a regular exercise program to help strengthen the muscles that support the spine.

  • Don't do complete bed rest. It often isn’t helpful. It may even make your condition worse.

General care

  • During the first 2 days after a pain flare-up, put an ice pack on the painful area for 20 minutes. To make an ice pack, put ice cubes in a plastic bag that seals at the top. Wrap the bag in a clean, thin towel or cloth. Never put ice or an ice pack directly on the skin. Use the ice pack every 2 to 4 hours. This helps reduce swelling and pain. 

  • Physical therapy or osteopathic manipulative therapy may help if the pain doesn’t go away. Talk with your healthcare provider about these therapies.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. This is very important. If you’ve been referred to a specialist, make an appointment right away.

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Back pain gets worse

  • New weakness, numbness, or pain in one or both arms or legs

  • Numbness or tingling in your buttock or groin area

  • Your foot drags as you walk or you have new weakness in a foot

  • You can’t control your bowel or bladder

  • You aren’t able to have a bowel movement or pass urine

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as advised by your provider

  • New symptoms that were not present during today’s visit

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