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Lumbar Herniated Disc - Topic Overview

Your doctor may diagnose a herniated disc by asking questions about your symptoms and examining you. If your symptoms clearly point to a herniated disc, you may not need tests.

Sometimes a doctor will do tests such as an MRI or a CT scan to confirm a herniated disc or rule out other health problems.

Symptoms from a herniated disc usually get better in a few weeks or months. To help you recover:

  • Rest if you have severe pain. Otherwise, stay active. Staying in bed for more than 1 or 2 days can weaken your muscles and make the problem worse. Walking and other light activity may help.
  • Try using a heating pad on a low or medium setting for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 or 3 hours. Try a warm shower in place of one session with the heating pad. You can also buy single-use heat wraps that last up to 8 hours. You can also try an ice pack for 10 to 15 minutes every 2 to 3 hours.
  • Do the exercises that your doctor or physical therapist suggests. These will help keep your back muscles strong and prevent another injury.
  • Ask your doctor about medicine to treat your symptoms. Medicine won't cure a herniated disc, but it may help with pain and swelling.

Usually a herniated disc will heal on its own over time. About half of people with a herniated disc get better within 1 month, and most are better within 6 months. Only about 1 person out of 10 eventually has surgery.1

Be patient, and keep following your treatment plan. If your symptoms don't get better in a few months, you may want to talk to your doctor about surgery.

After you have hurt your back, you are more likely to have back problems in the future. To help keep your back healthy:

  • Protect your back when you lift. For example, lift with your legs, not your back. Don't bend forward at the waist when you lift. Bend your knees, and squat.
  • Use good posture. When you stand or walk, keep your shoulders back and down, your chin back, and your belly in. This will help support your lower back.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Stay at a healthy weight. This may reduce the load on your lower back.
  • Don't smoke.Smoking increases the risk of a disc injury.
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