Diagnosing and Treating a Herniated Disc
When back, neck, or leg pain suggests that a patient may have a
herniated disc, a doctor will usually order imaging tests that may include:
- Computerized tomography (CT), a scan that uses x-rays to produce a three-dimensional image.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a scan that uses magnetic fields and
radio-frequency waves to create an image of the spine. An MRI is more
detailed than a CT scan and is considered the best tool for diagnosing
a herniated disc.
- Myelogram, a type of x-ray that uses dye injected into the spinal fluid.
- Electromyogram and Nerve Conduction Studies (EMG/NCS), tests that measure
electrical activity in the nerves and muscles and can identify where a
nerve may be compressed.
If an imaging test shows a herniated disc, the patient should be referred
to a major spine center for a full evaluation.
Treating a Herniated Disc
Treatment for a herniated disc generally starts out conservatively (time
and bed rest, over-the-counter pain medications). If these do not provide
relief, treatment measures may progress (acupuncture, steroids, muscle
relaxants, physical or occupational therapy, and injections). In most
cases, symptoms will resolve within 4 to 6 weeks. If conservative treatments
are not effective, or if the pain becomes debilitating, only then will
surgery be considered.
The multidisciplinary team at the
Weill Cornell Center for Comprehensive Spine Care takes an integrated approach to the treatment of herniated discs, including
physiatry, pain management, physical therapy, and — only when necessary
— minimally invasive surgery.
minimally invasive surgery (MIS) requires smaller incisions and offers faster recovery times than
older surgical methods. By reducing trauma to muscles, MIS gets patients
back to their regular activities quickly. Surgery for a herniated disc
is best performed at a major spine center with doctors trained and experienced
in the most up-to-date surgical techniques. Minimally invasive surgery
means a quick recovery, less pain, and less scarring. (See
Surgery for a Herniated Disc.)