With eight out of ten American adults experiencing some kind of back pain at some point in their lives, it is easy to fall into the habit of self-diagnosis and self-treatment. Many times people will indicate that they think they have a herniated disc or a pinched nerve without realizing that the two are very different conditions that demand very different treatment.
The right place to start for pain that persists for more than a week or two is with an appointment with our lumbar spine specialist in New Jersey, who will conduct a thorough examination to provide you with the correct diagnosis and course of treatment.
In the meantime, here is some information on distinguishing between the two conditions and understanding how a herniated disc is diagnosed and treated.
Generally speaking, when a person has a herniated disc it is felt as a diffused pain that is experienced in a variety of areas. A herniated disc will generally create pain that forces you to adjust the way you carry yourself or which limits your mobility. By contrast, a pinched nerve is more likely to result in numbness in the area that the compressed nerve provides sensation to, and that numbness may progress into muscle weakness.
In most cases, a pinched nerve is a result of inflammation, and with a combination of rest and anti-inflammatory medications, the situation will resolve and the patient will be able to return to normal activities. By contrast, a herniated disc is more likely to require more intervention, including therapy, exercise to strengthen muscles, and in some instances minimally invasive surgery.
A thorough examination will help to distinguish between the two, and will rely upon both the answers you provide during your initial examination and the results of diagnostic tests such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans.
If you are diagnosed with a herniated disc, it does not necessarily mean that you are headed for surgery, and it doesn’t mean that you are restricted to your bed. In fact, in many cases, doing some gentle stretching and exercises can provide you with relief and hasten your healing. The right exercises done properly can promote healing and improve and restore flexibility to your spine that has resulted from the disc slipping out of place or rupturing.
In most cases, a patient who has experienced a herniated or ruptured disc will be asked to rest for a few days and take anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling and inflammation, and after the most acute symptoms have subsided they will be provided with strengthening and stretching exercises designed to reduce symptoms that remain. These exercises will be introduced slowly, with additional moves and stretches added as progress is made and the patient shows signs of recovery and improvement.
Examples of some beneficial exercises that patients can pursue on their own include swimming, walking, yoga, and supervised stretching. It is important that all exercises be done slowly and ever to the point of pain. Exercises should be introduced under the supervision of our lumbar spine specialist or a therapist to whom they have referred you.