Diagnosing and Treating a Herniated Disc

Herniated Disc Diagnosis

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.

Herniated Disc Treatments in New York City

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.

Advanced 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.)

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