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Why Does My Herniated Disk Pain Come and Go?

Updated: Mar 25, 2022

Herniated discs are a common cause of chronic back pain, especially among people between the ages of 30-50 years. While many people with herniated discs suffer from chronic, unrelenting pain, others may find their symptoms come and go, or at least vary in their severity.

At Woodbury Spine, our orthopaedic surgeon, Evan O’Brien, MD, helps patients find the best solutions for their herniated disc pain, offering both conservative and surgical options, depending on each patient’s unique needs. If you have a herniated disc, here’s why your symptoms can change over time.

Herniated discs: The basics

Your spine contains a series of bones called vertebrae that link together to form a protective tunnel for your nerves. The nerves travel from your brain through the spine, exiting at intervals to go to all the other parts of your body, including your arms and legs.

Between each pair of vertebrae is a spongy disc that acts like a shock absorber for your spine. Each disc has a tough exterior “shell” and a gel-like interior that helps protect your vertebrae and nerves, as well as making your spine flexible.

Normally, each disc is contained within the boundary of the vertebrae — like a sandwich. But sometimes, a disc can “slip” out of place extending beyond the edge of the bones, or the outside of a disc can rupture allowing the gel to leak out. As you move your back, the bone edges or the protruding gel can irritate or compress the spinal nerves, causing back pain.

Depending on where the nerve is heading, you might also have pain, numbness, or weakness in your arms, legs, hands, or feet. Some people may have problems with controlling their bowels or bladder.

Why symptoms change

Herniated disc pain can be variable, based on the severity of the disc injury, where the disc is located, and other factors. While some people experience persistent, continual pain, others may have milder pain or symptoms that occur less frequently. In some people, herniated discs may cause mild, occasional pain, punctuated by bursts of more severe flare-ups.

If your herniated disc pain comes and goes, there’s a good chance it’s related to your activity. If you use your back for lifting or bending on a regular basis, you may find your pain is a lot worse immediately afterward. Even something as simple as sleeping in a specific position could cause symptoms to flare.

In these instances, it can be very helpful to keep a diary of your symptoms, including the level of pain you experience and what you were doing in the hours before your symptoms flared up. Sharing this diary with Dr. O’Brien can help ensure your treatment is tailored to your needs, so you can relieve your symptoms and get back to the activities you enjoy.

Your symptoms may also change in frequency and intensity as your disc heals. Many people notice a change in symptoms during therapy, with symptoms sometimes temporarily worsening before they finally get better.

Find relief for herniated disc symptoms

Herniated discs often resolve with nonsurgical treatments like:

  • Physical therapy

  • Activity modification

  • Anti-inflammatory medicine

  • Injections

Dr. O’Brien performs a comprehensive spinal and overall health assessment before developing a conservative treatment plan for you.

Sometimes, pain doesn’t go away, even after weeks of conservative treatment. If that’s the case, Dr. O’Brien may recommend a surgical treatment to remove the damaged part of the disc, stabilize the spine, or replace the herniated disc with an artificial disc.

If you’re having pain from a herniated disc, getting care as early as possible is important for relieving your symptoms and preventing the problem from getting worse. To learn how Dr. O’Brien can help you, call our office in Woodbury, New Jersey, or book your appointment online today.

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