Herniated Disc

What is a Herniated Disc?

Also called a slipped disc or ruptured disc, the condition is a cause of neck and back pain. It can make everyday activities difficult if not impossible.

How Does it Happen?

A herniated disc happens when a disc on your spine slips out of position and irritates a nerve. This often occurs just with regular wear and tear or with aging. As you get older, you spinal discs become less flexible as they lose water content. That makes them more apt to tear or shift.

What are the Signs and Symptoms?

There are times when herniated discs have no symptoms at all, but usually you'll feel them in these ways:

Pain, numbness, and weakness in your lower back, neck, shoulder, chest, one leg, or arm, especially if this pain gets worse when you sneeze, cough, or sit
A radiating pain (sciatica) that extends down the back of one leg 

How is it Diagnosed?

Usually, your doctor can diagnose a herniated disc just through a physical exam. This will involve your reactions to raising the painful leg, then the other. Your doctor may also do examinations to determine your sensitivity to the area.

Beyond a physical exam, your doctor may prescribe imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized tomography (CT) scan, or myelogram (an x-ray done in conjunction with dye that is injected into the spinal column).

How is it Treated?

In about 90 percent of cases, herniated discs can improve with a conservative regimen of rest, cold packs or heat, reduced activity, physical therapy, and pain medication.

In a small number of cases, disc repair surgery is recommended. During the procedure, a surgeon will operate to remove the herniated parts of the disc and take pressure off the nerve. Learn more about BayCare's Spine Care Centers.

What is the Prognosis?

The majority of people report a full recovery from this surgery within two to four weeks. Patients are then advised to stay active, maintain a healthy weight, and use their legs when lifting heavy objects, thus not straining the back.