Ask the Expert: Dr. Frank Cammisa, Spine Surgeon, Answers Your Questions About the Symptoms and Treatment of Herniated Discs

by Dr. Frank Cammisa
Human Spine

Q1. I am 31 and have had L4-L5 and L5-S1 fused, and I’m still very active, how long will I have till I have additional problems, and what can I do to prolong additional problems?

There is no way to predict whether or not you will develop any problems above your fusion.  You should remain active as long as you like and do activities you are comfortable with.   You can avoid additional problems by:  Staying in good shape, doing flexibility/strengthening and aerobic conditioning exercises, not smoking and maintaining a good body weight.

Q2. I have been experiencing lower back pain and weakness in my leg after moving some heavy boxes. A friend suggested I get it checked out because it could be a herniated disc but I’m only 22. Is it possible that it could be a herniated disc at my age?

Yes, you can have a herniated a disc at any age.  You should have this evaluated as soon as possible, given the neurological finding of weakness.

Q3. My husband was recently diagnosed with a herniated disc. His doctor suggested physical therapy and anti-inflammatories. How long will it take for him to feel better?

Everyone responds to various treatments differently.  There is no way to predict this.  It also depends on the type of herniation (location, size) and whether it compresses a nerve root.  Generally, it can take 2 to 12 weeks for resolution.  If there are neurological problems such as weakness or bowel/bladder involvement, consideration of surgery is indicated.

Q4.  My father recently experienced a herniated disc and treatment has been minimally invasive (i.e., shot for the pain). However, nothing seems to be working. Would surgery be a likely option?

It is possible that surgery may be necessary especially if there is weakness or bowel/bladder dysfunction.  If he has failed non-surgical treatments, and finds the situation intolerable, microsurgical discectomy is a good option.

Q5.  I have lower back pain and have noticed some pain in my legs but nothing that is preventing me from going to work or walking. I haven’t lifted anything heavy, I’m not an athlete, no accidents – the pain seems to have started out of the blue. Is it possible that it is a herniated disc? Are there any other common symptoms to look out for?

Yes, it is possible that you may have herniated a disc.  The classic symptoms for an acute disc herniation are a sudden onset of severe low back pain which may resolve with rest, icing and anti-inflamatories.  The back pain improves but leg pain can develop.  The leg pain may or not be associated with numbness, tingling and/or weakness.  The symptoms to look out for are pain in the leg, weakness, numbness, tingling, and bowel/bladder dysfunction.  If these symptoms are present, medical evaluation is necessary.

Q6.  I often move heavy objects for work. What’s the best way to prevent a herniated disc?

Using good body mechanics and using the large muscles that control the torso, hips and legs.

Dr. Frank CammisaChief of the Spine Service at Hospital for Special Surgery, specializes in the surgical treatment of spinal disorders. His areas of expertise include minimally invasive spinal surgery, computer-assisted spinal surgery, microsurgery, athletic spinal injuries and motion-preserving procedures, including artificial disc replacement.

Topics: Orthopedics
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The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.


Denise Gulan says:

My daughter lives in upstate NY, they all agree that she has a buldging disc, a tear and two pinched nerves. There is nothing they can do for her. I find in this day and age that there must be some time of way to releave her from this awful pain. They are just giving her pain medication. This is just putting a band-aid on it, not correcting the problem. She was told about disc replacement. Is this procedure available and what is the success rate. She is 32yrs of age.

HSS on the Move says:

Hi Denise, We’re sorry your daughter has been having pain. Orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Farmer said the disc replacement is available, but that your daughter would need to undergo a preliminary exam to see if she’s a candidate for the procedure based on a number of criteria. If she’d like to pursue an appointment with an HSS physician, please contact our Patient Referral Service at 877-606-1555 or visit them online at

Melvin Romrell says:

Disc herniations are normally a further development of a previously existing disc “protrusion”, a condition in which the outermost layers of the annulus fibrosus are still intact, but can bulge when the disc is under pressure. In contrast to a herniation, none of the nucleus pulposus escapes beyond the outer layers.

Venita says:

Hello Dr. Cammisa – I have a herniated and I have been experiencing pain in the back for the past 8 months, I have had 3 epidural – Decompression, physical therapy, injections – nothing seems to be working. your name was referred to me by boss.. HELP

HSS on the Move says:

Hi Venita, thank you for reaching out. If you are interested in receiving care at HSS, please call our Physician Referral Service at 877-606-1555 for further assistance scheduling an appointment.

Sachka Tzvetkava says:

Hello, In 2010y. i had a Anterior decompression, instrumented fusion of c4-c5, c5- c6, c6- c7. ,with OP 8 mm.Stryker cage with !2- 14 mm. Locking screws. This year i must to do C3- c4 level. My surgeon,/ same from 2010y.orthopedic – Dr. Michael Donahue, D. O., offer mi same Imlants- Striker cage. anader Newrosurgeon, Dr. Lucia Zamorano- – ROI_C Cervical Cage. I have a gegenerative disk disease with myelopathy. Wich mettod is better? Please help me. Thank you in advance

HSS on the Move says:

Hi Sachka, thank you for reaching out. It is best to consult with your treating physician or be evaluated in person. If you wish to receive care at HSS, please contact our Physician Referral Service at 877-606-1555 for further assistance.

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