Herniated disc FAQs — frequently asked questions about herniated discs including symptoms and treatment options

If you’ve been diagnosed with a herniated disc, then you likely have a number of questions about the spinal condition, its causes and treatments. While only your physician can speak to your spinal health specifically, this article will provide information about herniated discs in general.

Herniated disc causes and symptoms

What is a herniated disc? A herniated disc occurs when a disc (one of the spine’s “shock absorbers”) develops a crack or tear in its outer shell (annulus fibrosus) that allows the disc’s inner fluid (nucleus pulposus) to escape.

What causes discs to herniate? Most herniated discs are caused by the degenerative changes that occur in the spine as part of the natural aging process. After years of supporting body weight and facilitating movement, the discs can become less flexible, lose water content and harden, making them prone to herniating.

What are the symptoms of a herniated disc? Surprisingly, some patients with herniated discs experience no symptoms at all. While the crack in the annulus fibrosus can cause localized pain and inflammation, severe symptoms typically only occur when the nucleus pulposus enters the spinal canal and compresses a spinal nerve, nerve root or the spinal cord itself. When this occurs, symptoms can include pain, numbness, tingling and muscle weakness that radiates into the limbs.

Treatments for herniated discs

How are herniated discs treated? Many patients are advised to take over-the-counter, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or analgesics to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Some patients are also referred to physical therapists, and others are advised to make lifestyle changes such as losing weight or quitting smoking.

Does the condition ever require surgery? In the event that nonsurgical treatments fail to relieve a patient’s herniated disc symptoms, his or her physician may recommend surgery. This typically only occurs after the patient has undergone conservative treatments for several weeks or months only to have received little to no pain relief.

Are there any alternatives to herniated disc surgery? Some patients may be candidates for minimally invasive procedures as alternatives to open neck or back surgeries for herniated discs. These procedures are performed on an outpatient basis and many patients are able to resume normal activity within a matter of weeks. The minimally invasive decompression and stabilization surgery at Laser Spine Institute removes the herniated disc and replaces it with an artificial disc. This procedure reduces symptoms by relieving pressure on the nerve root and allows for a shorter healing process* when compared to traditional open neck or back surgery.

To learn more about herniated discs and the latest treatment options, contact Laser Spine Institute. We would be happy to answer your questions and tell you about the minimally invasive treatments we offer to help you find relief from your neck or back pain.

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