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Herniated Discs

Herniated Discs

Herniated discs are not uncommon, and can range from mild and without symptoms, to severe and incapacitating pain. The term “disc herniation” covers a broad range of definitions. In general, any bulging of a disc is a disc herniation. However, discs can simply bulge out and cause little to no pain. On the other hand, the inner core of the disc can push out of the outer layer of the disc and into the spinal canal and actually push on and irritate nerves within the spine. This can create back pain, pain into the leg, and sciatica. This can even lead to numbness, tingling, and weakness in certain muscles controlled by the nerves being irritated.

Spinal discs are like shock absorbers between the bones of the spine, and are designed to help the back stay flexible while resisting forces in many different planes of motion. Each disc has two parts:a firm and tough outer layer called the anulus fibrosus, and a soft and jelly-like inner layer called the nucleus pulposus. The outer portion of this layer contains nerves. If the disc tears in this area, it can become quite painful. The inner part of the disc contains proteins that can cause the tissues they touch to become swollen and tender. If these tissues bulge or leak out to the nerves of the outer layer of the disc, they can cause a great deal of pain.

A single excessive strain or injury may cause a herniated disc. However, disc material degenerates naturally as one ages, and the ligaments that hold it in place begin to weaken. As this degeneration progresses, a relatively minor strain or twisting movement can cause a disc to rupture. Certain individuals may be more vulnerable to disc problems and, as a result, may suffer herniated discs in several places along the spine. There tends to be a higher rate of disc herniations in those who have family members with multiple disc herniations, smokers, and heavy laborers.

However, the majority of patients will typically improve over time without surgery. The question is how these disc herniation symptoms are monitored and controlled. Many times spine injections and oral pain medications can control pain while the body naturally tries to “dissolve” the herniation. If symptoms worsen over time, or there is weakness or numbness that is severe, surgery may be needed.


A herniated disc is a common injury that can affect any part of the spine. A herniated disc can cause severe pain and other problems in the arms or legs.

Disc Anatomy

Vertebral discs are flexible, rubbery cushions that support the vertebral bones. They allow the spine to twist and bend. Each disc has a soft inner nucleus that is surrounded by a fibrous outer wall.

Herniated Disc

A herniated disc occurs when the nucleus pushes through the outer wall. This herniation can result in a large bulge that can press against nearby nerve roots.


Herniated discs commonly result from age-related weakening of the spinal discs. This is called disc degeneration, and it can occur gradually over many years as a result of normal wear and tear on the spine. A herniated disc can also result from a traumatic injury, or from lifting a heavy object improperly.


Symptoms of a herniated disc vary depending on the location of the disc and the severity of the rupture. Some herniated discs cause no symptoms, and a person with this type of injury may not realize the disc is damaged. But a herniated disc can also cause severe pain, numbness or tingling, and weakness. Most herniated discs occur in the lower back, where they can cause symptoms in the buttocks, legs and feet. Herniated discs also occur in the neck, where they can cause symptoms in the shoulders, arms and hands.


Treatment options for herniated disc depend on the location and severity of the injury. A herniated disc may be treated with pain-relieving medications, muscle relaxers and corticosteroid injections. A person with a herniated disc may benefit from physical therapy. If these methods are not effective,the disc may need to be treated with a surgical procedure.