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