Herniated disc

Your spine is made up of bones called vertebrae. The vertebrae form a column that protects the spinal cord. Between each of the vertebrae is a cushiony disc. These discs allow your back to flex, so you can bend, turn, and reach.

A herniated disc is a disc that has shifted out of its place between the vertebrae. It is sometimes referred to as a slipped disc. In some cases, the disc may bulge or even rupture.

A herniated, bulging, or ruptured disc may put pressure on the nerves of your spinal cord, and that pressure can result in pain, numbness, or weakness.

Herniated discs happen most frequently in the lower back. The neck is also a common location.

Symptoms

Pain from a herniated disc usually occurs on one side of your body.

  • A herniated disc in your lower back may cause sharp pain in your leg, hip, or buttocks. You may experience numbness elsewhere. Your leg may also feel weak.
  • A herniated disc in your neck may cause pain in your neck or near your shoulder blade. The pain may also move to your upper arm, forearm, and fingers. There may also be numbness in your shoulder, elbow, forearm, and fingers.

The pain is often mild at first, but common activities such as standing, sitting, walking, reaching, sleeping, coughing, sneezing, and laughing can make the pain get worse.

Causes and risk factors

A herniated or ruptured disc is caused by an injury or strain on the disc. Common risks for a disc to become herniated include:

  • Obesity
  • Age
  • Work that requires physical labor such as lifting heavy objects
  • Participation in sports
  • A history of herniated discs in your family

Treatment options

How your doctor decides to treat a herniated disc depends on how severe the damage to the disc is. Possible treatment options include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise
  • Physical therapy
  • Injections

Surgery may also be an option if other treatments do not work.

Last reviewed: 
June 2017

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