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I Have a Disc Herniation... What Should I Do!?

Updated: Apr 24, 2023

Let me start by saying this: been there, done that.

Dr. Erica here, and I'm here to tell you that in January 2023, I herniated a disc in my own low back while I was at the gym.

First of all, what is a disc herniation?

The disc is the shock-absorption system in your spine. There's a tough outer layer and a squishy inner layer (see picture below). When the disc "herniates", it means the squishy inner layer has pushed into the outer layer or outside of the disc altogether. Symptoms often include back or neck pain, made worse by coughing and sneezing, and sometimes radiating pain down the leg or arm.

an infographic detailing the difference between a normal, healthy intervertebral disc and a herniated intervertebral disc.

The pain from an acute disc herniation is often enough to send someone to the emergency room, but I'm here to tell you that most disc herniations can be treated with conservative care by a chiropractor or physical therapist. Most disc herniations do not need interventions like surgery or injections (although some may).

The best part? Most disc herniations are relatively easy to treat with conservative care.

Here's what I did for myself (and what I do with most of my patients who have a disc herniation):

  1. Don't freak out! An acute disc herniation can be very painful and cause many people to freak out. Try your best not to. Catastrophizing worsens the pain response.

  2. Continue with normal daily activity. Things like grocery shopping, making dinner, and walking the dogs should be continued. Know this: it might hurt. But that's okay! Just be mindful of how you're moving through these activities for the next few weeks instead of avoiding them altogether. Avoiding activities because you are afraid that they will hurt is called "fear avoidance". Fear avoidance also worsens the pain response.

  3. Know that imaging is not necessary in most cases*. Obtaining an MRI image of your spine is an expensive test and will not change the nature of your care plan. You'll be treated the same regardless of whether or not you have an MRI. An MRI should be obtained when: you have not responded to 6+ weeks of conservative care, or you have a red flag (*red flags include numbness in the groin and loss of bowl and bladder control).

  4. Do your rehab exercises. Your rehab exercises are the key to getting better, faster. If you're a patient of Axon Health, your chiropractor will give you a few exercises to help your disc herniation. Need some guidance with this? Call us!

Disc herniations are a common complaint our mobile chiropractors treat. Know that there is help available - and you don't have to struggle driving to get there. We come to you to make this process easier.

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