Herniated disc FAQs

Q: What causes a herniated disc?
A: The single biggest underlying cause of a herniated disc is degeneration due to age. The discs lose their elasticity due to natural wear, making it easy for the hard outer surface to rupture. When this happens, the inner material can extrude into the spinal canal, interfering with nerves and causing painful symptoms. In rarer cases, a traumatic injury can cause a herniated disc.

Q: I have back pain and believe I may have a herniated disc. What is the best way for me to get a diagnosis?
A: Seeing your primary care doctor or a spine specialist is the best first step to an accurate diagnosis of a herniated disc. Your physician can perform a thorough examination, review medical history and if necessary, give you a prescription to have an MRI or CT scan taken to confirm the diagnosis. Laser Spine Institute offers a review of this imagery and reporting to determine if you are a potential candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery.

Q: Where should I turn to next for help relieving my pain and other symptoms caused by a herniated disc?
A: Most patients find success partnering with a physician for a course of conservative, nonsurgical treatment like physical therapy, epidural injections or chiropractic care. If you haven’t found meaningful pain relief with these methods, we suggest you view our page dedicated to herniated disc treatment. There you can learn more about how our minimally invasive procedures can help you get back to a healthy, active lifestyle.

Q: Will existing hardware affect my surgery?
A: Many patients with hardware have successful results with our surgery. Some may even be candidates for hardware removal. We can also remove scar tissue buildup from previous surgery. After reviewing your MRI report, we can give you a better idea of whether or not we would be able to help.

Q: How long is the rehabilitation period after surgery at Laser Spine Institute?
A: The recovery time is short§ because we use small incisions — typically less than 1 inch — and use an endoscope to enter the body. This instrument stretches and pushes the muscles aside instead of severing them, causing less trauma, scar tissue and blood loss than traditional open back procedures. Specific instructions regarding recovery and returning to work are given to each patient by our physicians and staff following surgery.

Q: Can I have a herniated disc and not have any symptoms?
A: Yes. Usually, a herniated disc only causes symptoms if disc material interferes with nerves in the spine. Symptoms of a herniated disc typically include pain, numbness, tingling or weakness in the extremities. Local pain and inflammation can occur if the nerves on the disc surface become irritated.

Q: What is the difference between a bulge and disc herniation?
A: The discs in our spine are always under a lot of pressure, and when discs are healthy, the tough outer wall of a disc holds the inner core in place. A bulge occurs when the interior part of the disc pushes to the point that it begins to break through the layers of the deteriorated outer wall, causing a bulge with no rupture. This can still be painful if the bulge pinches a nerve in the spinal cord or a nerve root. Disc herniation is more extreme, in which a tear occurs in the outer wall, allowing material from the center to leak out.

Q: What are my treatment options for severe disc damage where the surgical recommendation is disc removal and spinal fusion?
A: Some herniated discs are so deteriorated that only removing the disc material compressing the nerve is insufficient treatment. In these situations, the best course of action is removal of the entire disc, using a combination of hardware and bone grafts to stabilize the empty space between the vertebrae. Traditional open back fusions are highly invasive procedures — even by the standards of spine surgery — but for a long time they were the only option when disc damage was advanced. Laser Spine Institute surgeons can now perform minimally invasive stabilization procedures that avoid the risks and difficulties of a traditional fusion while achieving the same positive outcomes.

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