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Herniated disc symptoms, causes and treatment options.
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Herniated or Bulging Disc

A herniated disc—also known as a bulging disc, ruptured disc or prolapsed disc—is a cushioning disc between two of your spinal bones that loses its typical shape and/or bursts open and releases its soft core material. Certain underlying conditions in your discs can lead to the onset of this problem, which can produce symptoms that range in severity from nonexistent to debilitating.

Read below to learn more about herniated disc symptoms, causes and treatment options. But don’t stop there. Let us review your unique case and discuss your best options for treatment – whether or not they include minimally invasive spine surgery.

Leakage of the core material in a spinal disc, called the nucleus pulposus, occurs when pressure or structural weakness triggers a rupture that extends through all of the layers in the disc covering. Shape distortion occurs when only some of the covering’s layers rupture or tear. If the disc or its leaking nucleus push against your spinal cord or nearby spinal nerves, you can develop a number of nerve-related symptoms. The vast majority of herniated or bulging spinal discs occur in the cervical spine (neck) or the lumbar spine (lower back).

Herniated discs are sometimes referred to by other names that describe some of their more prominent features. For example, because of the ruptures that appear in the disc surface, professionals and the public sometimes use the term ruptured disc. Because of the potential for the disc to bulge or spread, professionals and the public sometimes use the term bulging disc. Because of the loss of disc height associated with the condition, professionals and the public sometimes used the term prolapsed disc. Additional familiar terms based on physical characteristics of a herniated disc include torn disc and slipped disc.



The weakness and excessive pressure associated with a herniated or ruptured disc most commonly occur as a result of reduced water content in the nucleus pulposus. The typical reason for this water loss is advancing age.

Other potential causes of a prolapsed disc include habitual performance of motions—such as heavy lifting—that place high levels of stress on your spine, accidents or injuries that damage your discs or vertebrae, and any movement that forces your spine to deal with forces beyond its normal limits.

In addition, obesity and smoking can increase your risks for developing the condition. People with weakened discs can develop a prolapse even when participating in activities that usually place no excessive pressure on the spinal column.

If you develop a herniated disc in your neck, symptoms of your condition may include shoulder or arm pain of varying severity; unusual nerve sensations such as burning, numbness or tingling; and significant muscle weakness. If you develop a herniated or bulging disc in your lower back, symptoms of your condition may include the nerve sensations and muscle weakness that accompany prolapses in your neck, as well as varying degrees of pain that extend to your buttock, thigh or lower leg.

If you do such things as cough, sneeze or move your back in a way that increases nerve irritation, the pain associated with prolapses in both your neck and lower back can also extend into the nearest limb. A lot of people develop ruptured discs that produce no noticeable symptoms.

If a damaged disc in your lower back presses against a cluster of nerves known as the cauda equina, you can develop rare, medically serious symptoms such as numbness in the skin associated with your genitals and anus, profound leg weakness and loss of your normal ability to control your bladder or bowels.

In most cases, your doctor will recommend a course of treatment for a herniated disk that includes rest, avoidance of aggravating activities, exercises that strengthen your back and decrease pressure on your affected nerves, and over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen or ibuprofen. In addition to exercise, form of physical therapy commonly used in treatment include temporary neck bracing, temporary back bracing, ultrasound, heat and cold treatments, traction and pain-relieving electrical stimulation.

Physicians at Spine Treatment Centers of America specialize in the minimally invasive treatment of herniated discs through a variety of techniques. Common approaches are:

Epidural Steroid Injection: This common pain management technique can reduce inflammation, in some cases giving the body time to heal before more invasive procedures are required. Pain relief from ESIs may be temporary, however.

Microdiscectomy: Through a tiny incision, the surgeon may remove disc tissue from a herniated or bulging disc.

There is no single procedure that is best for everyone. Consult with a minimally invasive spine expert at Spine Treatment Centers of America to start building your customized treatment plan today.

You are looking for answers, and Spine Centers is here to help. Whether you have recently suffered an injury or have been dealing with chronic pain for years, our specialists have years of experience treating patients with similar symptoms.

Spine Centers brings together the foremost minimally invasive spine experts, tailoring your treatments to your specific needs and providing personal, compassionate care.

If you have tried conservative pain treatments and have not found relief, allow a Spine Centers patient advocate to help. Start your free case review now.