What is herniated disc?

Herniated Disc

Herniated disc: Overview

The bones that form the spine in your back are cushioned by small discs. If a disc is damaged, it may bulge or break open (herniate). A herniated disc can result from normal wear and tear as we age or from an injury or disease. If a herniated disc irritates or presses on a nerve, it can cause pain and numbness in your leg (sciatica) and/or back pain.

Your symptoms may get better on their own in a few weeks or months. Avoid movements and positions that make your pain worse. Medicine and exercise can also help. In some cases, you may need surgery.

Herniated disc

The bones that form your spine are cushioned by small discs that act as shock absorbers and keep the spine flexible. When a disc is damaged, it may bulge or break open. This is called a herniated disc, slipped disc, or ruptured disc. It may push on the nerves and cause pain, numbness, or weakness in the area where that nerve travels. Most herniated discs happen in the lower back. Many people have herniated discs but don't have any symptoms.

What happens when you have a herniated disc?

Age or injury can cause the outer layer of a spinal disc to dry out and form tiny cracks. Sometimes this causes a herniated disc and symptoms of pain and numbness. The pain usually fades over time.

What are the symptoms of a herniated disc?

When a herniated disc pushes on a nerve, it can cause pain, tingling, weakness, or numbness wherever the nerve travels. Depending on the disc's location, symptoms may occur in areas such as the neck, arm, back, buttock, or legs. Many people with a herniated disc have no symptoms.

How is a herniated disc diagnosed?

To find out if you have a herniated disc, your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and do an exam. If this suggests that you have a herniated disc, you probably won't need other tests. But if your doctor needs more information, you may have an MRI or a CT scan. Your doctor may order one of these if:

  • Your medical history and physical exam suggest a more serious condition. (This could include a tumor, an infection, or severe nerve damage.)
  • Your leg pain and other symptoms don't get better after 6 weeks of nonsurgical treatment.

Other tests, such as blood tests, may be done to rule out other conditions.

Some tests are done to give your doctor more information. They aren't used as often as an MRI or a CT scan. These tests may include:

  • An electromyogram and nerve conduction test.
  • A myelogram.
  • A nerve block.

Home Treatment for Herniated Disc Pain

What causes a herniated disc?

Wear and tear, also called disc degeneration, is the usual cause of a herniated disc. As we age, the discs in our spine lose some of the fluid that helps them stay flexible. The outer layer of the discs can form tiny tears or cracks. The thick gel inside the disc may be forced out through those cracks and cause the disc to bulge or break open.

A herniated disc can occur from:

  • A sudden, heavy strain or increased pressure to the lower back. Sometimes a sudden twisting movement or even a sneeze will force some of the material out.
  • Activities that are done over and over again that may stress the lower back. Examples include poor lifting habits, being exposed to vibration for a long time, and sports-related injuries.

What is a herniated disc?

The bones that form the spine in your back are called vertebrae. These bones are cushioned by small, spongy, discs. If a disc is damaged, it may bulge or break open. This is called a herniated disc. You can have a herniated disc in any part of your spine.

Herniated disc: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You are unable to move a leg at all.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse symptoms in your arms, legs, chest, belly, or buttocks. Symptoms may include:
    • Numbness or tingling.
    • Weakness.
    • Pain.
  • You lose bladder or bowel control.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You are not getting better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

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