What is a herniated disc and how is it treated?

A herniated disc is a disc in the spine that has torn due to pressure from the surrounding vertebrae. Typically when a herniated disc occurs, the disc’s nucleus leaks through the tear and compresses a nearby nerve root or the spinal cord itself. This nerve compression is what causes the pain and symptoms associated with a herniated disc.

There are several treatments available to help reduce the pain of a herniated disc. Many physicians will recommend a series of conservative treatments after the cause of the damaged disc has been diagnosed. If conservative treatments prove ineffective, surgical options are available.

Causes of herniated discs

A herniated disc can sometimes develop suddenly as a result of trauma or injury, such as a car accident or athletic injury.

The most common cause of herniated discs, however, is the natural aging process. Throughout life, the discs in the spine are subjected to wear and tear. Because the discs in the spine are responsible for supporting and cushioning the vertebrae and joints with every movement or impact, they are increasingly susceptible to injury as the spine ages.

Specifically, the discs can lose water content, become less flexible, weaken and lose their ability to properly absorb impact. The tough outer layer of the disc that holds the shape and structure of the disc can lose its elasticity, causing the disc to expand and ultimately tear. This is a herniated disc.

Symptoms of a herniated disc

The symptoms of a herniated disc only occur when the damaged disc material impacts a nearby nerve root. This nerve compression can send pain and other symptoms from the spine into the closest arm or leg, which is called “radiating pain.”

The most common symptoms of a herniated disc include:

  • Numbness
  • Pain
  • Tingling
  • Muscle weakness

When nerve compression occurs in the neck, these symptoms can be felt in the head, neck, upper back, shoulders and arms. When it occurs in the lower back, symptoms are experienced in the lower back, hips, buttocks and legs.

Treating a herniated disc

Many patients are able to relieve the symptoms of a herniated disc by taking over-the-counter medication, working with a physical therapist and making lifestyle changes such as losing weight. These are all conservative methods of treatment that should be recommended and monitored by your physician.

If after several months of conservative treatment you have not noticed any reduction in your pain, you may be a candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery at Laser Spine Institute. We offer patients a safer and effective alternative to traditional open neck or back surgery by providing a shorter recovery time^ and lower risk of complication.

Many patients with a herniated disc may find relief through our minimally invasive decompression surgery, which removes the portion of the disc that has extruded and pressed against the nerve root. However, some patients may be recommended for a minimally invasive stabilization surgery, which removes the disc altogether and inserts an artificial disc in its place.

After reviewing your MRI report or CT scan, we may recommend a minimally invasive spine surgery, depending on the location and severity of your condition. To see if you are a candidate for one of our procedures, contact Laser Spine Institute today.

Browse Related Resources