When a ‘pop’ might be something to get looked at
You bent over or twisted funny and all of a sudden you hear a pop. Maybe it was trying to pick up something too heavy, or maybe you aren’t sure why you’re suddenly in pain. It can be hard to know why it happened or even what happened.
“If you are having shooting pain down one or both of your legs, have recently had an incident where you felt something ‘pop’ when lifting a heavy object or bending down, then you may have a slipped disk,” says Dr. Kartik Kesavabhotla, neurological spine surgeon at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wis.
Between each of your vertebrae in your spine is a spongy cushion that separates the bone, called a disk. A slipped disk, also called a herniated disk, is when the soft inner portion of the disk in your spine bulges through the outer ring of the disk. It can be caused by a variety of things, including wear and tear to that outer ring, which leads to a tear or break in it.
“One thing you can do to prevent a slipped disk is to be mindful of your limitations when lifting heavy objects. Avoiding those situations where you might be straining your back while lifting can reduce the chances of having a slipped disk,” says Dr. Kesavabhotla. “If you think you might have a slipped disk, the first step is to let your primary care physician know. They’ll likely order a non-contrast lumbar MRI to determine if that’s what is happening.”
If you do have a slipped disk, there are plenty of treatment options available. The first things your doctor will likely try include anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy and interventional pain injections. If these options aren’t providing lasting relief or your symptoms haven’t improved after six weeks, it may be time to consider surgery. That’s when your primary care doctor might refer you to a neurological spine surgeon.
“If surgery is necessary, microdiscectomy can be considered. It’s a small surgery, often a same-day procedure,” says Dr. Kesavabhotla. “My job as a neurological spine surgeon is to see if that’s the right treatment for a patient, especially if the patient is healthy enough for the surgery and it’s the best chance at definitive relief long-term.”
If you’re experiencing symptoms of a slipped disk, reach out to your primary care doctor. They can help you figure out next steps. If you are noticing any form of acute weakness in your legs or problems with your bowels or bladder all of a sudden, don’t wait — go to the emergency room right away. These can be signs of something more serious.
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About the Author
Ben Hoekstra is a public affairs coordinator with Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. He previously worked in marketing and PR for various Milwaukee nonprofits and received his master’s degree in Corporate Communications from Marquette University. He enjoys the outdoors, cooking, and all things Milwaukee.
About 50 years ago, I had a “pop” in my back while adjusting a window A/C. I am fortunate in that it wasn’t anything major. However, my lower back does remind me of my youthful indiscretion every now and again. Happy to report that yoga does help. Since then, I lift with my legs.