A herniated disc is a back condition that affects the intervertebral discs in the spine. The spinal discs cushion and support the vertebrae, act as shock absorbers, and allow the spine to move freely and flexibly. Discs are made up of two parts: a tough outer ring of ligaments called the annulus fibrosus and a soft, jelly-like inner core called the nucleus pulposus.
Disc herniation occurs when the annulus fibrosus tears, causing the jelly-like nucleus to protrude from the disc and leak into the spinal canal. By itself, herniation may not be painful. But fragments of the disc have a high chance of irritating or compressing nearby spinal nerves or the spinal canal, leading to pain and symptoms. Herniation is most common in the cervical or lumbar spine.
A herniated disc is also called a slipped, prolapsed or ruptured disc.
Age-related degeneration is the leading cause of disc herniation. As we age, our spinal discs age along with us. They become drier, stiffer, less flexible and more prone to injury and damage. As degeneration progresses, discs are at higher risk of tearing from a minor strain or twisting movement. While the actual disc herniation may occur suddenly, it’s usually as a result of years of gradual weakening and degeneration.
In younger adults, disc herniation can occur as the result of a traumatic incident like a fall, car accident or sports accident. Herniation can also occur from lifting a heavy load using your back muscles or lifting and twisting simultaneously.
Age is the primary risk factor for disc herniation, and the injury commonly affects people between the ages of 35-55. Other risk factors include obesity, working a physically demanding job with repetitive lifting movements, practicing improper lifting techniques, gender (men are more likely to develop a herniated disc), smoking and genetics.
The location and size of the herniation play a large role in symptom expression. In many cases, people with a small herniation that’s not pressing against spinal nerves may experience mild neck or back pain, or no symptoms at all. If a herniated disc is compressing nearby nerve roots or the spinal cord, symptoms vary depending on location.
If the herniated disc is located in the lumbar spine, pain and symptoms are usually worse with prolonged periods of sitting, standing or walking. Forceful motions like a cough, sneeze or laugh can trigger the onset of pain. Sitting in a reclining chair or lying down with support under the knees can relieve pressure on the low back nerves and ease pain and symptoms.
Many herniated discs heal naturally within a few weeks. Your doctor may recommend several non-surgical treatment options to help relieve your discomfort and speed up the healing process.
If conservative treatments aren’t effective after a few weeks, it may be time to consider surgery.
Surgery is advisable if you have severe pain, reduced mobility or worsening nerve symptoms that could indicate nerve damage. In many cases, a surgeon is able to remove only the portion of the disc that’s protruding into the spinal canal. In some cases, the surgeon will remove the entire damaged disc and replace it with an artificial one or fuse the adjacent vertebrae.
At Integrity Spine and Orthopedics, we specialize in identifying, diagnosing and treating a wide range of acute and chronic back, spine and joint conditions. Our board-certified orthopedic surgeons specialize in performing minimally invasive spine surgeries to reduce pain and improve mobility for patients diagnosed with spinal arthritis, degenerative disc disease, bulging or herniated discs, a pinched nerve, spinal stenosis and more.
Some of the primary benefits of minimally invasive surgery include:
If you’re experiencing back or joint pain, weakness, or a loss of mobility, reach out to us today to schedule a consultation with our team. We provide compassionate and comprehensive care to help you find relief from pain and get back to doing the activities you love.
Call us at 904-456-0017 or contact us online to request an appointment.