Orthopaedic Spine Center
450 Broadway St. | MC6342
Redwood City, CA 94063
For Adult Patients: (650) 725-5905

Herniated Disc

What is a herniated disc?

Discs are the soft, rubbery pads which act to provide motion and cushioning between the bones of the spinal column. They consist of an inner gel-like substance (nucleus pulposus) and an outer tough-fibrous ring (annulus fibrosus), not unlike a jelly donut.

A herniated disc, otherwise called “ruptured” or “slipped” disc, describes when the inner jelly pushes out on the outer ring and can put pressure on spinal nerves.

Video: Herniated Disc
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What causes a disc herniation?

Although disc herniations can occur with nearly any type of movement, conditions which increase the risk for a disc herniation include:

  • Improper lifting
  • Smoking
  • Excessive body weight that places added stress on the discs (in the lower back)
  • Sudden pressure (which may be slight)
  • Repetitive strenuous activities

What are the symptoms of a disc herniation?

Symptoms can include:

  • Arm, buttock, or leg pain
  • Neck or back pain
  • Tingling, numbness, or weakness in an arm, buttocks, or leg
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

How is a disc herniation diagnosed?

The physician makes the diagnosis of a disc herniation with a complete medical history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests. Diagnostic procedures may include the following:

  • x-ray - a diagnostic test which uses invisible energy beams to produce images of bones onto film.
  • computed tomography scan (Also called a CT or CAT scan.) – a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs.
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body; can often determine damage or disease in an intervertebral disc, vertebral body, spinal cord, nerve roots, ligaments, and muscle.

Treatment of disc herniations

Specific treatment for kyphosis will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the condition
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, and therapies
  • expectation for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference

Conservative treatment is effective in treating symptoms of herniated discs in more than 90% of patients. Most neck or back pain will resolve gradually with simple measures such as short bed rest, slow and controlled physical activity, and over-the-counter pain relievers. Once the acute symptoms resolve, exercises and physical therapy may help avoid future episodes of pain.

Epidural injections of a cortisone-like drug may also lessen nerve irritation and allow better participation in physical therapy. These shots are given on an outpatient basis over a period of weeks.

Surgery may be required if a disc fragment lodges in the spinal canal and presses on a nerve, causing significant loss of function. Surgical options in the lower back include microdiscectomy or laminectomy depending on the size and position of the disc herniation.

In the neck, an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion may be recommended. This involves removing the entire disk to take the pressure off the spinal cord and nerve roots. Bone is placed in the disc space and a metal plate may be used to stabilize the spine. On occasion, a smaller surgery may be performed on the back of the neck that does not require fusing the bones together.