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Herniated disc

What is a herniated disc?

The spinal column is made up of a series of bones, which provide structure and support to the upper body, as well as discs, which pad the bones and allow for flexibility and movement in the spine. If one of these spinal discs becomes damaged, its outer wall may tear and extrude its nucleus pulposus — the soft inner material of the disc. This condition is called a herniated disc, or herniated nucleus pulposus.

Diagnosing a herniated disc

There are a number of spinal conditions that can cause similar symptoms of pain and discomfort, so it’s important to consult a doctor for an accurate diagnosis. Your doctor may start with a physical exam to identify the location of the affected disc. Then, an MRI, CT scan or other medical imaging test can be used to confirm a diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment.

Causes of a herniated disc

Most often a herniated disc is the result of spinal compression, which can occur from aging, weight gain or repetitive motions. This increased pressure can cause a spinal disc to eventually tear and leak its inner material. As we age, we also become more susceptible to this condition as the discs become less flexible over time.

Herniated disc symptoms

Symptoms of a herniated disc typically include pain at the location of the affected disc. Other symptoms, such as muscle weakness, numbness, tingling and radiating pain, will vary in location depending on where the affected disc is. For example:

  • In the lumbar (lower) spine. This is the most common location of a herniated disc, as the lower back endures a lot of pressure. Symptoms, such as sciatica, may radiate through the buttock, leg and foot.
  • In the cervical (upper) spine. Symptoms may affect the shoulder, arm and hand.

Treatment options for a herniated disc

There are a number of conservative treatment methods that a physician can recommend to help alleviate symptoms of a herniated disc. These include:

  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Pain medications
  • Hot and cold compresses
  • Low-impact exercises
  • A corrective brace

Lifestyle modifications may also help certain patients improve their condition. Maintaining a healthy body weight, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption and improving posture can help strengthen the spine and reduce pressure on the spinal discs. Patients sometimes explore alternative treatments, such as gentle yoga, acupuncture or chiropractic manipulation, to help with symptom control as well.

Herniated disc surgery

In many cases, conservative treatment methods will offer sufficient relief from pain and other symptoms associated with herniated discs. However, if these treatment options do not improve symptoms over the course of a few months, it may be necessary to consider surgery.

Minimally invasive spine surgery at Laser Spine Institute in Philadelphia is an option that many individuals with neck and back pain have chosen over the years. Compared with traditional open spine surgery, our outpatient procedures require a smaller incision, are less disruptive to surrounding tissue and offer a faster recovery time^. Across our state-of-the-art centers, our skilled surgeons have helped more than 75,000 patients find the relief they’re looking for from spinal conditions, including herniated discs.

If you’d like to find out if you’re a candidate for herniated disc surgery, contact us today to receive a no-cost MRI review.*