What You Need to Know About a Herniated Disc

November 12, 2012

What You Need to Know About a Herniated Disc

Herniated discs are also called slipped discs or ruptured discs. But no mater what it’s called, it’s painful. In a normal, healthy spine, cushion-like discs are found in between hard bones. The discs keep the hard bones from touching each other and work as effective shock absorbers.

Discs contain a gel-like center called the nucleus. In a herniated disc, the nucleus bursts through the tough outer coating, pressing against the nerves of the spine. Depending on how bad the disc is and the condition of the rest of the spinal column, pressure on the nerves can cause pain or numbness.


Symptoms of a herniated disc differ upon where in the spine that the affected disc is located. If the slipped disc is in the neck, then symptoms are located mainly in one arm. It will go numb, tingle or feel as if it’s being pricked by pins. Because of the numbness and pain, it will become weak. A burning pain may spread from the arm to the shoulders and neck. Many people also become incontinent.

If the herniated disc is located in the lower back, symptoms are mainly in the legs but also include incontinence. The pricking sensations can occur in one or both legs, but usually only one leg feels numb or becomes weaker than the other. Burning sensations can shoot up and down the neck.


There are many reasons for a person to get a herniated disc. It’s more common in senior citizens than children because aging spinal column discs begin to dry out. But people who smoke are more at risk of getting a herniated disc. Other causes include not lifting a heavy weight properly; heavy exercise that include lots of repetitive actions and obesity. Excess fat places an uneven strain on the spinal column.

Another cause is a serious injury, such as being involved in a car crash. Even if the injury happened months or years ago, they can cause changes to the spine so that uneven wear and tear occurs and suddenly the disc ruptures.


The first step in getting effective treatment is to get a diagnosis. Symptoms of a herniated disc can also be similar to other medical problems such as tumor growth on the spine. Patients usually need to get am X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to see exactly where the damage is and how bad it is. If these tests are inconclusive, then the patient may need an electromyography of the nerves to see which ones are being pressed against.

The good news is that 90% of people with a slipped disc do not require surgery. They need rest, over the counter painkillers and cold and hot therapy. For cold and hot therapy, first place a cold compress on the effected area for 20 minutes. Remove the cold compress and place a heating pad on the area, but not directly onto the skin.

If these treatments do not help, then the patient will be prescribed medications such as muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory painkillers. Another option is to get injections of steroids to block the nerve pain. These injections only work temporarily and a patient may need them for many years. If these treatments do not work, then surgery is the next step.

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