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Herniated nucleus pulposus

Herniated nucleus pulposus definition

The spine is made up of many components, including discs that provide padding between the vertebrae. These spinal discs consist of an outer wall and a soft gel-like interior. Over time, these discs can deteriorate, leading to tears in the outer wall that allow the inner material of the disc to spill out. This condition is called a herniated nucleus pulposus (HNP) and is more commonly referred to as a herniated disc.

Diagnosing a herniated nucleus pulposus

A doctor can determine if your neck or back symptoms are caused by a herniated disc. Following a physical exam to find the location of the affected disc, a doctor may use medical imaging to confirm an HNP diagnosis and identify the extent of the condition.

Herniated nucleus pulposus causes

There are several different factors that can cause a herniated disc. As we age, the spine naturally begins to degenerate or weaken. The constant pressure and stress that the spine endures through regular activity add up over the years, making the spinal discs more susceptible to tears.

Overexertion is another factor that can lead to a herniated disc. Playing high-impact sports or having a job that requires repetitive movements or heavy lifting can result in a damaged disc, even in a younger individual.

Symptoms of a herniated nucleus pulposus

The most common symptom of a herniated disc is neck or back pain. Other symptoms may include:

  • Numbness and tingling
  • Muscle weakness
  • Pain that varies based on movement
  • Radiating pain along a nerve pathway

Where you experience symptoms will depend on where along the spine the herniated disc is located. An HNP in the cervical (upper) spine may affect a nerve that extends through the shoulder area and down the arm. On the other hand, an HNP in the lumbar (lower) spine can produce symptoms, such as sciatica, that affect the buttocks and one of the legs.

Treating herniated nucleus pulposus

There are a variety of treatment options available that can help alleviate the symptoms of a herniated disc. As a first step, a doctor will likely recommend a series of conservative treatments, which can include:

  • Pain medication
  • Gentle exercises or stretching
  • Physical therapy
  • Limiting tobacco use and alcohol intake
  • Lifestyle changes such as improving posture or weight loss

Patients may also find alternative therapies helpful in reducing neck or back pain, such as yoga, acupuncture and chiropractic treatment.

Minimally invasive surgery options

In many cases, conservative treatment methods provide patients with the relief they need from symptoms of a herniated nucleus pulposus. However, minimally invasive spine surgery can be a clinically appropriate next step — providing many advantages versus open neck or back surgery for patients who have exhausted conservative options without an improvement in symptoms.

At Laser Spine Institute in Philadelphia, our surgeons are highly skilled and experienced in performing outpatient procedures that have helped many patients find relief from their neck and back pain. If you have a herniated nucleus pulposus and are interested in the minimally invasive options at Laser Spine Institute, contact us today.