What is a disc herniation of the spine?

There are many levels of disc damage that can occur within the spine, ranging from deteriorating discs to disc herniation. But what does it mean to be at the starting point of disc deterioration, and what is disc herniation of the spine? 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 injury or constant pressure from surrounding vertebrae. However, a herniated disc is often the last stage of disc damage; the damage typically begins 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 elastic outer layer (annulus fibrosus) can begin to weaken, allowing the disc to lose shape and bulge outward. A herniated disc occurs when the disc bulges to the point that the annulus fibrosus rips, and the nucleus pulposus, the liquid material that makes up the disc’s inner layer, leaks into the spinal canal. Both bulging discs and herniated discs can cause painful symptoms if they press into a local nerve root.

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:

  • Pain, local or radiating
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty walking or standing
  • A burning sensation
  • Sharp pain with certain movements
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control — medical emergency

For many patients, these symptoms can 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 physician will likely recommend a combination of two or more of the following bulging or herniated disc treatment options:

  • Pain medication
  • Physical therapy
  • Weight loss, when necessary
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Low-impact exercises
  • Hot/cold compresses
  • Stretches and yoga
  • Corticosteroid injections

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 minimally invasive alternatives to traditional open neck and back surgery. These procedures allow patients to benefit from a shorter recovery time^ and lower risk of complications compared to traditional open neck or back surgery.

To treat a bulging or herniated disc, we often recommend a minimally invasive discectomy procedure. 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 structural integrity of the spine.

Find out if you’re a candidate for one of our minimally invasive procedures by contacting Laser Spine Institute today and requesting a no-cost review of your MRI.*

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