Do You Need Herniated Disc Surgery?
“Take two ibuprofen and call me in the morning,” is a medical cliche–and also a legit first step treatment for discomfort caused by a herniated disc. But let’s say you’ve tried the anti-inflammatory medications, the physical therapy, the steroid injections and the lifestyle changes…and your herniated disc is still causing pain. At this point, you may need to seriously consider herniated disc surgery.
The decision to have surgery should never be taken lightly. It is common to second-guess your gut and try to tough it out. Every bit of information helps when you’re making decisions that affect your health and your quality of life. In today’s blog post, we explain the symptoms of a herniated disc and discuss five signs it may be time for surgery.
Common Symptoms of a Herniated Disc
Depending upon the region of the spine where a herniated disc occurs, the symptoms may be very different. A herniated disc in the cervical spine (neck) may cause pain radiating down the arm, numbness along the shoulder, elbow, forearm and fingers, and/or muscle weakness. A herniated disc in the lumbar spine (lower back) creates pain and numbness in the buttock and down the leg, commonly known as sciatica. Discs rarely become herniated in the thoracic spine (upper- to mid-back) but when they do, there may be pain in the upper back, belly or chest.
How are Herniated Discs Treated?
Usually, you’ll be encouraged to try anti-inflammatory medications, lifestyle adjustments (like losing weight) and physical therapy to address herniated disc symptoms. “Regardless of the location of the herniated disc, our treatment path always starts with the least invasive treatment options,” says Dr. James in his blog post about epidural steroid injections, “giving the body a chance to heal itself naturally.”
When a non-surgical treatment plan fails to provide relief, there are several minimally invasive surgical options available. Below we address the top signs it may be time for surgery.
5 Signs You May Need Herniated Disc Surgery
Sign one: severe arm, neck or back pain
Chronic pain, numbness and weakness are serious red flags. Depending where a herniation occurs, symptoms may be very different, but they have one thing in common–they hurt! A herniated disc in the cervical spine (neck) may cause pain radiating down the arm, numbness along the shoulder, elbow, forearm and fingers, and/or muscle weakness. Discs rarely become herniated in the upper- to mid-back, but when they do, there may be pain in the upper back, or the pain may present itself in the belly or chest.
Theses symptoms can mean the affected disc has collapsed to a point where herniated disc surgery may be the only option to relieve the pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots.
Sign two: severe leg pain (sciatica)
A herniated disc in the lumbar spine (lower back) creates pain and numbness in the buttocks and down the leg, commonly known as sciatica. This debilitating sciatic leg pain can be life-altering. If nonsurgical treatments don’t alleviate the burning, tingling and numbness, it may be time for surgery.
Sign three: cauda equina syndrome
A herniated disc compressing the nerve roots at the end of the spinal cord can cause sudden numbness in the genital area, leg weakness and difficulty urinating. A rare but serious medical emergency, cauda equina syndrome requires herniated disc surgery.
Sign four: issues with balance and fine motor skills
Symptoms of spinal cord compression may include weakness in the arms and hands, balance problems and loss of fine motor skills. When these serious neurological issues interfere with daily life, herniated disc surgery is required.
Sign five: the sense it’s time for surgery
Every patient experiences the wide range of herniated disc symptoms differently. When conservative treatments fail to produce long-term relief, surgically removing the source of the pain is a reasonable option. Ultimately, you will know when it’s time for surgery. Learn as much as you can about your condition, consult with a specialist, but ultimately, you have to trust your gut.
The good news is, minimally invasive herniated disc procedures are vastly superior to old, open spine surgery.
Benefits of Minimally Invasive Herniated Disc Surgery
When a patient chooses a minimally invasive herniated disc procedure, their experience is far superior to old, open spine surgery. These include:
Tiny incisions – most minimally invasive herniated disc surgery incisions require only a few stitches to close. Smaller incisions mean less painful tissue damage.
Increased safety – smaller incisions have less risk of infection and far less blood loss than open surgery.
Faster recovery – because surgeons can work around muscles and tissue instead of cutting through them, patients return to a normal life faster.
The minimally invasive options for herniated disc surgery include Anterior Cervical Discetomy Fusion, Micro-discectomy/Laminectomy, Cervical Total Disc Replacement, Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion, Posterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion, and Direct Lumbar Interbody Fusion.
Consult with a Specialist
Unfortunately, back pain is all too common. “More than 90 percent of people over age 50 have to deal with serious back pain at some point in their life,” Dr. Shamieh said in a blog post describing minimally invasive spine surgery. Knowing when enough is enough can be a challenge, and sometimes it helps to talk with an expert. If you have questions about when you should have surgery for a herniated disc, schedule an appointment for an evaluation with one of our fellowship trained, board certified minimally invasive spine specialists today.
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