Disc herniation, also known as disk herniation or disc rupture, usually is a result of disc degeneration. It occurs when the central disc (annulus) tears allowing some of the central disc material to squeeze through the tear into the spinal canal. Disc herniation most commonly happens:
- In the lowest two joints of the lumbar spine (lower back area)
- Near the base of the neck
Sometimes a disc herniation, or rupture, can occur without any symptoms. Other times, disc herniation can cause pain in the low back or base of the neck. Common symptoms of a disc herniation include:
- Arm or leg pain
- Tingling or numbness
Disc herniation can be diagnosed with a physical exam. Sometimes an X-ray, CT scan or MRI may be taken to see which nerves may be affected or if the condition is more than a herniated disc.
Most patients with a herniated disc require only anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxation medications combined with a cervical collar for neck disc ruptures and restricted activity for lumbar disc ruptures. When pain is intolerable or does not steadily decline over the first few weeks, more potent anti-inflammatory medications or injections may be needed.
Surgery is needed only when:
- There is progressive loss of nerve function
- The level of pain is too severe
- Duration of pain is too long to tolerate despite use of anti-inflammatories
Surgery to remove the herniated disc fragment and relieve pressure against a nerve has a very high rate of success. Our spine surgeons and pain medicine specialists use the smallest incision possible to completely remove the disc fragment. Most patients are able to go home the same day as surgery.