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Disc Herniations (Cervical, thoracic and lumbar)

Disc herniations occur when one of the intervertebral discs separating the vertebrae of the spine ruptures. When a disc herniates, the gel-like inner material of the disc breaks through a crack in the tough outer coating, often pressing on spinal nerves and causing pain, numbness and weakness.

People sometimes describe the pain from a herniated disc as a “pinched nerve.” A herniated disc may also be referred to as a “ruptured disc” or a “slipped disc.”

A bulging disc is different from a herniated disc. With a bulging disc, the degenerating disc material bulges out between the vertebrae, but does not break through the outer coating. Bulging discs are less likely to interfere with spinal nerves.


Symptoms of a Herniated Disc

Symptoms of a herniated disc will vary depending on where the herniation occurs. Disc herniation can occur in the neck (cervical spine), upper back (thoracic spine) or lower back (lumbar spine).

Herniated discs generally cause:

  • Pain in the arm, shoulder or one or both legs
  • Numbness or tingling in arms or legs
  • Weakness in arms or legs
  • Sharp pain aggravated by sitting (lumbar) or moving a certain way

If the herniation occurs in the neck, symptoms may be experienced in the shoulders or arms. If it occurs in the upper back, you may feel pain around the rib cage, chest, or in the upper abdomen. Lumbar disc herniations often cause intense pain in the buttocks, thigh and calf, sometimes reaching all the way down to the ankle or foot.

Some people with herniated discs don’t have any symptoms at all. In very severe cases, the nerve compression caused by a herniated disc in the lumbar spine can lead to loss of bowel or bladder function.


Who gets a herniated disc?

Most herniated discs are due to normal, age-related deterioration of the spine, but sometimes something happens that causes a disc to herniate. Trauma to the spine, heavy lifting, or sudden twisting movements (such as when golfing) can cause a disc to spontaneously herniate.

You can reduce your risk of developing a herniated disc by exercising appropriately and maintaining a healthy weight.

Treatment for herniated discs

Most herniated discs can be treated with exercise, medication and/or injections, and symptoms usually resolve within a few days or weeks. Typically, the pain will go away first, with numbness, tingling and weakness taking slightly longer to resolve.

In very rare and severe cases, a herniated disc will need to be surgically corrected. Whenever possible, Dr. Baig employs minimally-invasive endoscopic spine surgery to treat herniated discs and other severe forms of disc degeneration.