A herniated disc, also called a “slipped” or “ruptured” disc, is a common cause of neck or back pain. Spinal discs are soft, rubbery pads located between each vertebra that allows the spine to bend and flex, while also acting as a shock absorber. Spinal discs also act as ligaments that hold the vertebrae of the spine together.
Each disc is designed like a jelly donut. There is a tough outer ring of cartilage (annulus fibrosus) that surrounds a soft inner gel-like core (nucleus pulposus). A herniated disc occurs when the outer portion of the disc ruptures or tears, and the jelly-like core squeezes out. As the jelly-like nucleus pushes against, or compresses, sensitive spinal nerves, patients will experience pain, numbness, or weakness in one or both legs.Symptoms Lower Back PainThe most common symptom of a herniated disc is sciatica, or a sharp, shooting pain down the back of the leg caused by pressure on the spinal nerve. Other symptoms may include:
- Back pain
- Weakness in the leg / foot
- Tingling or numbness in the leg / foot
Pressure placed on a nerve in the neck causes pain between the neck and shoulder, resulting in shooting pain down the arm. Other symptoms may include:
- Weakness in one arm
- Tingling or numbness in one arm
- Burning pain in the shoulder, neck, or arm
Nonsurgical treatment is effective in treating the symptoms of a herniated disc for most patients. Most neck and back pain will gradually resolve by taking conservative measures, including:
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications
- Cold compresses and ice therapy
- Heating may be used after spasms have settled
- Epidural injections
- Physical therapy
Physical activity should be slow and controlled, especially when bending forward and lifting. Avoid sitting for long periods of time and taking short walks can help as well.
A very small percentage of patients require surgery following a herniated disc.
- Lumbar Microdiscectomy: involves removing the herniated portion of the disc and any fragments that are applying pressure to the spinal nerve.
- Cervical Discectomy and Fusion: involves removing the entire herniated disc. Bone is then placed in the disc space and a metal plate may be used to help support the spine.