Herniated Disc

Discs are small circular cushions between the bones in the spine. The bones are called vertebrae. The discs are compressible. They act as cushions for the vertebrae. A herniated disc happens when discs in the spine bulge from their proper place. This is most common in the lower spine.

  • Causes

    Herniated discs can occur when discs lose water content, become flatter, and provide less cushioning. It can also occur when the disc is damaged by trauma.

  • Definition

    Discs are small circular cushions between the bones in the spine. The bones are called vertebrae. The discs are compressible. They act as cushions for the vertebrae. A herniated disc happens when discs in the spine bulge from their proper place. This is most common in the lower spine.

    Herniated Lumbar Disc
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  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your spine will be examined. The movement, strength, and reflexes of your arms and legs will be tested.

    Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

    • MRI
    • CT scan
    • Bone scan

  • Prevention

    To help reduce your chances of getting a herniated disc, take the following steps:

    • Practice good posture. Stand and sit straight, and keep your back straight when lifting.
    • Maintain a healthy weight.
    • Exercise regularly. Ask your doctor about exercises to strengthen your back and stomach.
    • Don't wear high-heeled shoes.
    • If you sit for long periods of time, use a stool to bring your knees above your hips.

  • Risk Factors

    These factors increase your chance of developing a herniated disc:

    • Age: 30s and 40s
    • Trauma from a fall, accident, or sudden twisting
    • Strain on the back—either repeated or sudden, as from lifting a heavy weight
    • Certain jobs that require heavy lifting
    • Smoking
    • Obesity
    • Diabetes

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms may include:

    • Pain:
      • May be sharp, dull, piercing, aching, burning, or throbbing, depending on the disc and size of herniation
      • May spread over the back, buttocks, down the back of one thigh, and into the calf
      • May be in one leg or both legs
    • Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the legs, feet, or in one or both arms
    • In severe cases, inability to find comfort even lying down
    • Sudden aching or twisted neck that cannot be straightened without severe pain
    • Cauda equina syndrome—involves bowel or bladder changes and/or numbness in the groin Note: This is an emergency, call for medical help right away.

  • Treatment

    Staying active may be better than bed rest. Treatments may include: