Herniated disc

Man with hurt back

​​​​​​​​Our spinal discs function as shock absorbers within our spines. Each disc is similar to a jelly donut, with a soft center covered by a hard exterior. A herniated disc, sometimes called a slipped disc or a ruptured disc, occurs when some of the soft "jelly" pushes out through a tear in the outer ring of the disc and puts pressure on the spinal nerves. The rupture of the disc itself can cause pain, but the disc can also compress nearby nerve roots, causing a nerve-type pain called radiculopathy (sometimes called sciatica).

Herniated disc causes and risk factors

A herniated disc is one of the most common spine conditions. It usually results from a sudden injury or wear and tear over time. 

Other causes include:

  • Heavy lifting

  • High-impact activities

  • Not being physically active 

  • Poor posture

  • Repetitive bending or twisting of the spine 

  • Weak abdominal and back muscles

Herniated disc symptoms

The bulging disc usually results in nerve pain. Symptoms in the lower back (lumbar spine) may be one or all of the following:

  • Back pain

  • Foot pain 

  • Leg pain

  • Numbness or a tingling sensation in the leg and/or foot

  • Weakness in the leg and/or foot

Symptoms in the neck (cervical spine) may include:

  • Muscle spasm in the neck 

  • Neck pain 

  • Pain near or over the shoulder blade

  • Pain that radiates to the shoulder, arm or the hands 

Herniated disc diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose a herniated disc using one or more of the following tests:

  • MRI scans—a sensitive imaging test that shows anatomy of the spine, including vertebra, disc, ligaments and spinal cord.

  • CT scans—a scan that creates detailed pictures to help diagnose spine damage.

  • Myelogram— an imaging test where contrast dye is injected into the spinal column during an X-ray or CT scan to get a clearer image of the spine. 

  • Electromyography (EMG)—a test that determines how your muscle responds when stimulated by a nerve. 

  • X-rays—an imaging test that looks at the bones of the spine as well as other body structures.

Herniated disc treatment 

Nearly 85 percent of herniated discs can be treated without surgery. For those who don’t get relief from non-surgical treatment, surgical options are available. 

Non-surgical treatment may include:

  • Epidural steroid injections

  • Medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

  • Physical therapy  

  • Rest—decreased activity to allow the disc to heal

 You may need surgery for a herniated disc if you experience extreme pain and limited movement even after other forms of treatment. Surgery for a herniated disc is used to remove the ruptured disc and decrease compression on the nerve.  This can often be done in a minimally invasive way using the microscope (often called a “microdiscectomy”).

Herniated disc surgery has a 98 percent success rate. However, some patients with a herniated disease will experience degenerative changes in their spine because the disc is no longer supporting the spine. Experts believe this is determined by the size of the herniation and how much damage it caused.  The minimally invasive techniques used at The Christ Hospital Health Network help decrease the amount of tissue dissection and bone work that is needed to remove the herniated discs, significantly reducing this risk.

If you experience sudden, severe motor weakness or loss of bowel or bladder control from a herniated disc, get immediate medical attention.

At The Christ Hospital Health Network, our expert physicians and specialists have the experience and skill to diagnose and treat a herniated disc, so you can get back to enjoying life.

Find a herniated disk specialist near you.