Herniated nucleus pulposus FAQ — frequently asked questions
Receiving a diagnosis for a herniated nucleus pulposus can bring many questions with it. At Laser Spine Institute we help many patients who are dealing with this potentially difficult condition, including answering questions they may have. The following guide includes answers to some of the general questions you may have about the causes of this condition and the treatment options available.
Q. What is a herniated nucleus pulposus (HNP)?
A. A herniated nucleus pulposus occurs when the soft inner layer, called the nucleus pulposus, of a spinal disc pushes through a tear in the outer layer, or annulus fibrosus. This condition is another term for a herniated disc.
Q. What causes a herniated nucleus pulposus?
A. A number of different factors can contribute to the gradual degeneration of the discs that cushion and support our spine, but the biggest underlying cause is the natural aging process. Over time, the discs in the spine lose water and protein content, making them less able to withstand the pressure being placed on them every day. This can lead to weak points, such as cracks and tears, on the outer layer of the disc that the nucleus pulposus can begin to push through. Other contributors include being overweight or obese, smoking, poor posture, traumatic injury and jobs that require repetitive bending and twisting.
Q. What are the symptoms?
A. The symptoms of HNP can vary depending on the severity of the condition and the location of the disc that has been affected. In addition to local irritation or pain, a herniated disc can put pressure on a nearby spinal nerve, resulting in radiating symptoms. Patients with a symptomatic herniated disc report experiencing pain, numbness, tingling or muscle weakness in their arms, legs, thighs, neck or buttocks. The location of these symptoms varies depending on which part of the spine has been affected.
Q. What are some treatment options?
A. The goal of treatment for HNP is to relieve pain, improve range of motion and help the long-term health of the spine. This is usually first attempted through conservative options like medication, physical therapy, hot/cold compression and massage. Additionally, your doctor may recommend that you try assuming different postures when sleeping, sitting or standing to relieve the pressure on your back. Spinal injections may also be recommended if symptoms are severe and not responding to basic treatment.
Q. Will I need surgery?
A. Surgery is usually seen as a last-resort treatment to be considered after exhausting conservative options. However, if these methods prove ineffective in relieving your symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery. As a safer and effective alternative to traditional open neck or back procedures,^ Laser Spine Institute provides minimally invasive spine surgery that can be performed on an outpatient basis with a less than 1-inch incision.