for Patients

Herniated Disc

Overview

Your spine is made up of bones called vertebrae. They aren't fused together. Instead, they are separated by spongy, flat cylinders called intervertebral discs. These discs are what allow your spine to bend while also acting as shock absorbers. A herniated disc is one that has been damaged. This condition is sometimes referred to as a ruptured or slipped disc. A herniated disc in the low back is sometimes called sciatica.

The disc is made up of two main parts: the firm outer layer, and the soft inner layer. When a disc is herniated, the outer layer can tear, causing the inner layer to bulge, leak or break off and place pressure on nerves roots in the spine, which can cause pain in other areas of the body. Even if the herniated disc does not press on any nerves, you can still experience achiness in your back.

Causes

Herniated discs can be caused by trauma that tears or cracks the outer layer of the intervertebral disc. You can also develop herniated discs due to aging as intervertebral discs lose their sponginess and flexibility as we grow older.

Herniated discs can also be asymptomatic.  Some studies have shown that up to 20% or 30% of people that have never had back pain were found to have a herniated disc show on MRI studies.

Symptoms

  • Low back ache
  • Pain, numbness or weakness in other areas of the body depending in where on the spin the disc has herniated. You may experience shooting or radiating pain in your arms, leg or neck
  • Loss of bladder and/or bowel control. If you have these symptoms, seek medical help immediately at your nearest Emergency Room or Hospital.
  • Muscle pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Loss of range of motion

Diagnosis

First step toward diagnosis will be a physical exam by one of our physicians. A herniated disc can also be diagnosed by X-Ray, MRI, CT scan, EMG.

Treatment

We have several methods of treating herniated discs.

  • Physical Therapy. Often, herniated discs can be treated nonsurgically by strengthening the muscles of the back and core through physical therapy and exercise. This treatment also includes stretching exercises that help relieve pain.
  • Medication. We may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to reduce the pain and swelling associated with a herniated disc.
  • Surgery.  If surgery is required for a herniated disc, treatment can often be provided in an outpatient setting with a minimally invasive surgical procedure.   Greater than 95% of patients can have herniated discs removed in this manner.  The procedures are completed either in our spine dedicated surgical center or the local spine accredited hospital.