Herniated Disc Injuries: Dealing With the Pain, Getting Treatment
What Causes Herniated Discs?
The bones of the spine are separated by discs. These discs help cushion the spine and allow it to move. This is why your spine is flexible enough to allow you to bend, but strong enough to support your body.
When there is enough force, these discs can move, slip, bulge, and even rupture. Then it is called a herniated disc. Discs that slip or bulge can press against spinal nerves, causing great pain.
What sorts of things can make these discs slip, bulge, and rupture? There are a few:
- Car accident/auto injury
- Workplace accident
- Strain while playing sports (especially common in elite athletes)
- Occupations where lifting is common
Many herniated disc cases are the result of wear-and-tear over the years. Lifting with your back (instead of your legs), for instance, can put strain on the area. But doing so over time (for example, having a job where lifting is expected) can do damage that accumulates. Overexerting yourself while playing sports can do the same.
What to Do if You Suspect a Herniated Disc
If you suspect that you have a herniated disc, the most important thing you can do is talk to a doctor. A doctor will be able to run tests to determine the exact cause of your symptoms.
Herniated disc due to a car accident.
We might not be as bad as New York or L.A., but Chicago has its fair share of aggressive drivers. Speeding, aggressive driving, drunk driving, and icy conditions are the most common causes of car accidents in the Chicago area.
It is especially important to see a doctor after a car accident to rule out more serious injuries and avoid future complications. Your doctor should make note of your injuries and any tests performed. Those tests should include an MRI—a herniated disc will not show up on an x-ray.
Having these tests will be important if you make a personal injury claim, as it will be easier to show that the injuries were due to the car accident. Delays in diagnosis and treatment not only make recovery harder, but they can hurt your legal case and any possible settlements.
Herniated disc due to a work injury.
Some jobs, by their nature, place more stress on your spine. These include:
- Construction workers
- Truck drivers
- Taxi drivers/Uber drivers
- Day laborers
- Warehouse/distribution center workers
- Auto mechanics
While these jobs tend to put stress on backs, an outright injury at any workplace can cause a herniated disc. These tend not to be bulging or slipped discs, but rather outright ruptures. Again, having a diagnosis from a doctor is important. For example, some herniated disc injuries might be eligible for Workers’ Compensation benefits—but the employee must be able to provide medical evidence that the injury was work-related.
In the meantime, treat your pain.
If you are experiencing pain, tingling, or numbness, this is your body’s way of saying “slow down.” Try to take it easy for a few days. Move a little, but avoid exercise that requires you to bend at all.
To ease the pain, you can take over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or naproxen. These medicines will not treat your herniated disc, but they will help relieve the pain and control swelling. Using alternating heat and cold can also help relieve the pain and swelling somewhat.
When lying down, put a pillow under your knees (or, if lying on your side, between your knees). This can sometimes take some of the strain off your back, too.
Treatment for a Herniated Disc
Once you have a diagnosis of a herniated disc, there are two basic treatment routes: Surgery, or non-surgical treatment.
The need for surgery is rare, but it is appropriate for cases with severe pain that resist other treatments. This usually involves removing the bulging part of the disc and placing metal hardware (screws) to improve the stability of the spine while you heal.
Non-surgical treatments, sometimes called conservative treatments, are much more common. These can include:
- Physical therapy
- Chiropractic manipulation
- Epidural injections (to reduce inflammation and relieve pain)
- Medications (anti-inflammatory pain relievers, muscle relaxants)
- Alternative treatments (ozone therapy, etc.)
Healing from a herniated disc can take months, even in the best of circumstances. It is important to work with a clinic or therapist that can keep you on track with exercises to increase your strength while you heal without overdoing it.
Getting a Diagnosis of Herniated Disc in the Chicago Area
If you live in the greater Chicago area and have been in a car accident, or otherwise had a personal injury, you should seek medical care. The doctors and clinicians at La Clinica, S.C. can help. They have extensive experience helping patients with back pain, as well as auto injuries, sports injuries, and injuries due to workplace accidents. With several locations around the Chicago area, there is probably a clinic close to you.