What is a Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc occurs when an intervertebral disc suffers damage and ruptures, releasing its gel-like internal contents into the surrounding nerve-rich space.

Each delicate vertebra of your spine is cushioned by a shock-absorbing intervertebral disc. Similar to the structure of a jelly donut, the anatomy of an intervertebral disc consists of a tire-like outer casing that encapsulates a gel-filled center. These elastic discs function to safeguard your spine from traumatic injury and to permit for the optimal flexibility of your neck and back. Unfortunately, these rubbery discs are not invulnerable to injury.

Wear and tear from repetitive lifting or the natural consequences of the aging process can cause micro-tears to appear on the exterior of an intervertebral disc. A damaged disc may then develop a protrusion, or bulge outward from the point of exterior weakness.

When a bulging disc ruptures, or herniates, the gelatinous nucleus of the intervertebral disc oozes outside of its protective casing, irritating nearby nerves and generating searing pain.

What are the Symptoms of a Herniated Disc?

General Symptoms:

A herniated disc may be asymptomatic; however, more commonly, individuals rate their discomfort as moderate to severe. In certain individuals, the pain may become incapacitating, limiting daily activities or necessitating a trip to the emergency room. Although individual symptoms vary significantly, telltale signs of a herniated disc include:

  • Pain that erupts from the site of herniation and migrates down through the extremities
  • Pain that is aggravated by sudden movements (e.g. coughing, sneezing, etc.); bowing at the waist; or sedentary activities that encourage poor posture (e.g. sitting at a desk)
  • Numbness, tingling, or prickling sensations in the body regions that are supplied by the irritated nerve tissue
  • Muscular spasms or neuromuscular weakness
  • Emergency Symptoms: Seek immediate medical attention if you experience excruciating pain, paralysis, loss of bowel or bladder function, or persistent numbness/tingling in the buttocks, inner thighs, or genital region (also known as saddle anesthesia)

Additionally, the symptoms of a ruptured—or slipped—disc may vary according to the specific nerves that are compressed by herniated disc material. For example, when a herniated disc results in nerve impingement in the lumbar (lower back) or cervical (neck) regions of the spine, the following location-dependent symptoms may emerge:

Lumbar (Lower Back) Symptoms

A herniated lumbar disc may result in sciatica—or scorching pain that radiates from the sciatic nerve in the lower back and down through the buttocks, thighs, calves, and/or feet. Nerve impingement in this spinal region has also been associated with foot drop, or inhibition of the muscles that flex the foot while walking.

Cervical (Neck) Symptoms

A herniated cervical disc may cause cervical radiculopathy—or searing pain that originates from the neck region of the spine and shoots down through the shoulders, biceps, wrists, and/or fingertips. A pinched cervical nerve may also result in stiffness or reduced range of motion when attempting to rotate or incline the head.

Not sure if you have a Herniated Disc?

Use our condition patient form to identify possible causes—and solutions—to your neck and back pain.

What are the Treatments for a Herniated Disc?

Non-Surgical Treatments:

Barring unusual or emergent cases, an initial course of treatment for a herniated disc should adopt a conservative or non-surgical approach to healing. A thoughtful combination of self-management and physician-guided recovery is often all that it takes to achieve effective relief. Recommended non-surgical techniques may involve:

  • Bed rest and the alternating application of heat and ice to the injured area
  • Anti-inflammatory or pain medications to relieve acute discomfort
  • Physical therapy to promote flexibility, enhanced musculoskeletal fitness, and proper body mechanics or posture during recovery
  • Cortisone injections at the site of injury to reduce nerve tissue inflammation

Although these methods are often sufficient to produce lasting pain relief for a herniated disc, a minority of individuals will still require surgical intervention to eliminate their discomfort. For those individuals who do require surgical treatment, our Harvard-trained, board certified surgeon, Dr. Frazier, will recommend one of the following minimally invasive techniques:

Endoscopic Discectomy

Through a tiny incision (3-5 cm. in length), your surgeon will use an endoscope (a flexible tube with a high-resolution camera) to visualize the compressed nerve tissue and extract the herniated disc material.

Cervical Artificial Disc Replacement

Often an outpatient, or same-day surgical procedure, which involves removing the herniated disc and replacing the damaged intervertebral body with a sturdier, artificial model.

Exploring treatments for a Herniated Disc?

Start the recovery process by using our treatment patient form to find the best treatments for your condition.

Our Office Locations

Manhattan Office

New Jersey Office

New Jersey Office

New York City Spine Surgery, PLLC

261 James Street, Suite 2G

Morristown, NJ 07960

Call: 973-998-9651

Fax: 973-998-9653

View Map

Request an Appointment