Herniated Disc Overview

Posted Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Did You Know? Smoking can lead to degenerative disc disorders

Severe Herniated Discs Can Lead to Spinal Cord Damage Causing Lifelong Symptoms 

Normal Spinal Aging Processes Cause Discs in the Spine to Dry Out and Shrink, Leading to the Increased Risk of a Disc Herniation

As the disc degenerates from age or injury, the softer central portion can rupture (herniate) through the surrounding outer ring (annulus fibrosus). This abnormal rupture of the central portion of the disc is referred to as a disc herniation. Herniated discs can be caused by various reasons from age-related to accidental causes.  

Please use this guide as a resource for knowledge and understanding of herniated disc symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.   


Symptoms of herniated discs will vary from patient to patient and will be dependent on many factors. While some may not have any symptoms, others can find symptoms debilitating and cause a significant change in lifestyle. The most common signs and symptoms of a herniated disk are:

  • Arm or leg pain
  • Back Pain
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Muscle Weakness

02 │Diagnosis

If a Medical Provider suspects a herniated disc  may be the cause of the patient's pain, a diagnostic test may be ordered to confirm the disc problem and/or to gain additional information, such as the location of a herniated disc and impinged nerve roots. Diagnostic tests may include:

  • CT Scan
  • MRI Scan
  • Discogram

03 │Treatment

Depending on the severity of symptoms, treatments for a herniated disc include physical therapy, muscle-relaxant medications, pain medications, anti-inflammation medications, local injection of cortisone (epidural injections), and surgical operations. Sometimes, people with relatively severe pain early on can respond to these conservative measures, others may require a surgical procedure. Surgical options include:

  • Laminotomy/Laminectomy- In a laminotomy, a surgeon makes an opening in the vertebral arch (lamina) to relieve pressure on the nerve roots.
  • Diskectomy/Microdiskectomy- In this procedure, the portion of the disk that is causing the pressure on the nerve root is removed. In some cases, the entire disk is removed.
  • Artificial Disk Surgery- For artificial disk surgery general anesthesia is used for sedation.  For this procedure, the surgeon enters through an incision in the abdomen. The damaged disk is replaced with an artificial disk made from plastic and metal.
  • Spinal Fusion- General Anesthesia is required for spinal fusion. In this procedure, two or more vertebrae are permanently fused together. This may be accomplished with bone grafts from another part of your body or from a donor. It may also involve metal or plastic screws and rods designed to provide additional support.

For more information on herniated discs and other orthopedic conditions, please visit: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org 

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