What’s a Herniated Disc and What Causes It?

Herniated discs go by several names, often called ruptured, bulged, prolapsed, or slipped discs. No matter which term you use, they all describe the same problem with the cushiony shock absorbers in your spine.

At the Brain and Spine Institute of New York and New Jersey, fellowship-trained and board-certified Dr. Arien Smith brings his expertise in spinal conditions to diagnosing and treating herniated discs. Here’s what you need to know about spinal discs.

The role of discs

Your spine contains a stack of vertebrae — the bones that form your backbone. 

When you’re born, you usually have 33 individual vertebrae connected to by flexible facet joints. However, most people only have 24 by the time they reach adulthood because some vertebrae in the bottom portion of your spine fuse together as a normal part of your growth and development.

Between each of your vertebrae, you also have a rubbery cushion, or intervertebral disc. These structures have a tough, protective exterior and a soft, jelly-like center. You have 24 of these discs in your spinal column, absorbing shock from impact and protecting nerves in your spine.

When the inner portion of the disc begins to protrude through its protective exterior, you experience a herniated disc.

Herniated disc basics

This condition occurs because of an injury that ruptures the disc or a weakness in the disc. Disc material and supportive ligaments in the area do weaken with age, so herniated discs become more common as you grow older and can result from even the most minor strains.

Common factors that increase your chances of herniated disc include:

You can have a herniated disc anywhere in your spine, but they’re most common in the lower back. Because of the intricate structure of your spinal column, our herniated disc can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms.

Signs of a herniated disc

When your disc bulges out of shape, it can put extra pressure on tissues and nerves in the area. In addition to neck pain or back pain, you can also experience other symptoms, such as:

These symptoms vary based on the location of your herniated disc and the nerves involved. However, you should seek care immediately if your symptoms impact your ability to control your muscles.

Treating a herniated disc

When treating a herniated disc, Dr. Smith’s first priority is managing your pain. Based on your symptoms, he could recommend a variety of therapies, including:

Less often, Dr. Smith suggests surgical solutions to remove a portion or all of the protruding disc. In most cases, he pursues surgery only if your condition doesn’t respond to conservative treatments or if you have serious symptoms like difficulty standing and walking, loss of bladder or bowel control, or severe weakness or numbness.

Are you worried that you have a herniated disc? Find relief for your symptoms at the Brain and Spine Institute of New York & New Jersey location nearest you. Contact us by phone or online to schedule an appointment today.

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