Guide to a disc herniation

There are many levels of disc damage that can occur within the spine, ranging from deteriorating discs to disc herniation. Understanding the phases of spinal disc damage will help you better identify any damage occurring within your spine so you can be proactive about finding treatments to effectively manage your symptoms.

A disc herniation is a disc in the spine that has torn slightly due to traumatic injury or constant pressure on surrounding vertebrae. A herniated disc occurs when the disc bulges to the point that the outer wall rips and the gel-like center of the disc leaks into the spinal canal. However, a herniated disc is often the last stage of disc damage, with the damage typically beginning with a bulging disc.

A bulging disc in the spine is a disc that has been overly compressed between two vertebrae, which can be due to the natural aging process and repetitive motion over the years. As the pressure from the surrounding vertebrae increases and the disc naturally begins to deteriorate due to age, the disc’s tough outer layer can begin to weaken, allowing the disc to lose shape and bulge outward.

The spinal cord sits behind the discs in the spine and when these discs herniate or bulge into the spinal cord, they can push on the nerves. Both bulging discs and herniated discs can cause painful symptoms if they press into a local nerve root. Read on to learn more about the symptoms and treatment options for a disc herniation in the spine.

Bulging and herniated disc symptoms

Though bulging discs and herniated discs are differing levels of disc damage within the spine, they often result in the same symptoms. If a nerve root is compressed by a damaged disc, the following bulging and herniated disc symptoms can occur:

  • Local or radiating pain
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty walking or standing
  • A burning sensation
  • Sharp pain with certain movements

In severe cases, loss of bladder or bowel control may also occur, which requires immediate medical attention by your primary care doctor. For many patients, these symptoms can possibly be treated with a series of conservative bulging disc treatments or herniated disc treatments.

Treatment for a bulging disc or herniated disc

In many cases, bulging disc treatment begins conservatively, offering patients a nonsurgical way to relieve their pain and symptoms. The same is true for herniated discs. Conservative treatments are often the first method of pain relief and your doctor will likely recommend a combination of two or more of the following bulging or herniated disc treatment options:

  • Physical therapy
  • Weight management
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Low-impact exercises
  • Hot and cold compresses
  • Stretches and yoga
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Pain medication

If these conservative treatments are ineffective after several months, you may need to consider the surgical options available to you, such as the minimally invasive spine surgery performed at Laser Spine Institute. We offer patients safer and effective alternatives to traditional open neck and back surgery, by allowing our patients to benefit from a shorter recovery time and lower risk of complications.^ Contact our dedicated team with any questions or concerns you may have about our outpatient procedures.

To treat a bulging or herniated disc, we often recommend a minimally invasive discectomy. Performed through a less than 1-inch incision, this procedure removes a small portion of the damaged disc to relieve pressure on the pinched nerve. If the entire disc must be removed through a stabilization procedure, stabilizing hardware will be inserted in its place to help maintain the spine’s structural integrity. To find out if you’re a candidate for our disc herniation surgery, reach out to us today and request a no-cost MRI review.*

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