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How are herniated disks diagnosed and treated?

If you work in a physically demanding position, odds are you are no stranger to aches and pains related to your job. For workers who experience persistent back, neck and leg pain, the underlying cause may be more severe than overworking themselves for one day.

Herniated disks are a common spinal injury that can occur as a repetitive stress injury. In your spine, between your vertebrae, you have cushions called disks. When those disks tear, you lose the buffer between your bones.

How can physicians diagnose a herniated disk?

If you have chronic neck, back or leg pain and a physically demanding job, you should see a healthcare provider as soon as possible. The doctor performs an initial exam to assess your reflexes, muscle strength and pain level. To diagnose the herniated disk, you may have to undergo one or several imaging tests.

MRIs are most likely to show you a herniated disk, whereas a CT scan shows the bones of your spine and can help doctors determine if the disks have pressed against the spinal cord and surrounding nerves. Additionally, a doctor may order an electromyogram. The electromyogram allows the doctor to determine which nerves the disk controls.

What is the treatment for herniated disks?

The treatment for herniated disks depends on the severity. At first, you may take anti-inflammatory drugs or muscle relaxers. Physical therapy can also help you improve your circulation and to relax the muscles around the disk. For severely herniated disks, surgery will release pressure on the nerve.

Generally, more treatment options open up if your herniated disk does not improve and the pain worsens.