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A herniated disc refers to an issue with the disc material that sits between the individual bones making up the vertebrae in the spine. These discs act as shock absorbers and cushions for the bones. The discs are similar to a jelly donut, with a soft center surrounded by a tough, protective exterior. When herniated, some of the “jelly” will protrude through a tear in the exterior, resulting in extreme chronic pain or discomfort.
Herniated discs are common among middle-aged people, and they tend to occur in the lower part of the spine.
Sometimes people use the terms “herniated disc” and “bulging disc” interchangeably, and while they are similar, there are important differences between them. When a disc is bulging, at least 25-50% of the disc’s circumference is protruding and it just affects the outer layer of cartilage, while a herniated disc involves a crack in the outer layer of the cartilage that causes some of the inner layer to protrude. A herniated disc is usually more painful than a bulging disc.
Herniated discs in the back do not always come with symptoms. Symptoms of herniated disc include:
If the herniated disc is in the neck, symptoms can include:
Herniated discs occur when the outer part of the disc becomes weak and tears. Beyond natural wear and tear, the factors that can increase the risk for a herniated disc include:
Imaging tests are the primary way to diagnose a herniated disc – through either observing the protrusions themselves or ruling out other sources of back pain. Imaging tests used include:
During a consult at the Adena Spine Center, your doctor may also perform movement tests, including tests to check for:
For most people, a herniated disc will improve on its own – even if the process is slow. One to two days of rest in bed is normally helpful for addressing severe back pain. For those with persisting pain, conservative treatment options include:
For other patients, surgery may be the only option to get relief from a herniated disc. In most cases, surgery for a herniated disc involves removing the part of the disc that is protruding. Some of the common types of surgery for this purpose include: