A herniated disc is a common condition and usually not cause for alarm. In fact, most herniated discs heal on their own after a few months of self-care.
A herniation occurs when one of the cushions between the bones of your spine (vertebrae) tears. These cushions (intervertebral discs) act as shock absorbers for your spine. The jelly-like fluid inside the disc leaks out of the tear and irritates nerve roots along your spine, causing pain.
Herniated discs, or slipped or ruptured discs, are usually the result of wear and tear. They can affect any part of the spine but typically occur in the low back.
At our multidisciplinary Spine Program, we focus on your quality of life. This means we select personalized herniated disc treatments that relieve pain with the least possible disruption to your day-to-day activities.
Our spine doctors always recommend non-surgical therapies first. And as part of Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, we can easily connect you to all the conservative treatments you need. If you do require surgery, you’re in the hands of the region’s leading spine surgeons with expertise in minimally invasive spine procedures.
A herniated disc has a tear, but a bulging disc is still intact. A bulging disc sags and pushes outward, a bit like a deflated balloon. A degenerated disc often bulges before it herniates. The two conditions cause similar symptoms.
A herniated disc is one of the most common causes of sciatica. Sciatica describes a range of symptoms in your lower body that result from pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Symptoms of a ruptured disc in your lower back (lumbar spine) may include:
Symptoms of a ruptured disc in your neck (cervical spine) may include:
A herniated disc usually results from spinal degeneration, or spondylosis. Your daily movements put a lot of pressure and stress on your spine. Over time, intervertebral discs lose strength and elasticity. The tough outer layer of the disc can’t contain the fluid and develops a bulge or tear.
In some cases, herniated discs result from neck or back injuries. Falls, auto accidents, sports injuries or sudden movements can cause a disc to rupture.
Wear and tear on the spine is a natural part of aging. But some factors increase your risk of disc degeneration or herniation, including:
Your spine doctor will discuss your medical history and ask you questions about your symptoms, such as:
Your doctor will do a physical exam, checking your spine for skeletal abnormalities such as misaligned vertebrae or spinal curvatures. Then, they do a series of tests to evaluate your nerves, reflexes and muscle strength.
You may also do a straight leg raise test if your doctor suspects a herniated disc in your low back. During this test, you lay on your back with your knees straight. Your doctor gradually lifts your leg. If you feel pain or tingling that radiates down your leg, you likely have a herniated disc.
There isn’t one single treatment that will relieve herniated disc symptoms. Instead, your treatment plan will include a combination of therapies aimed at improving your quality of life. Few people with a herniated disc need surgery.
Effective self-care treatments include:
Non-surgical spine treatments help most people manage herniated disc symptoms. The doctors at our Spine Program almost always recommend conservative therapies first. And as part of Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, you have access to a wide range of treatments from one source.
Non-surgical herniated disc treatments may include:
A very small number of people with herniated discs will require spine surgery. We reserve surgery for people whose symptoms severely affect their quality of life.
The most common herniated disc surgery is a microdiscectomy. Our spine surgeons routinely perform this procedure and are among the best in the region for minimally invasive spine surgery.
During a discectomy, we operate on your herniated disc through a very small incision in your back. We remove the disc material, causing nerve compression without cutting through muscles and other soft tissues. This technique helps you recover faster, with less pain and downtime.
Contact us to learn more about the Spine Program or to schedule an appointment with a specialist.