Skip to main content

What is a Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc, also known as a slipped or ruptured disc, occurs when the soft cushioning material between the vertebrae in the spine protrudes or bulges out of its normal position. This condition most commonly affects the lower back or lumbar region but can occur in other areas of the spine as well. The intervertebral discs act as shock absorbers, providing flexibility and allowing for smooth movement. When a disc herniates, it can put pressure on nearby nerves, leading to pain, numbness, or weakness.

Commonly Affected area by Herniated Disc

A herniated disc can occur in any part of the spine, but it most commonly affects the lower back (lumbar spine) and the neck (cervical spine). These two regions are more prone to herniated discs due to the greater range of motion and the increased stress placed on the intervertebral discs.

  • Lumbar Spine (Lower Back): The majority of herniated discs occur in the lumbar spine. Symptoms may include lower back pain, sciatica (pain radiating down the leg), numbness, tingling, or weakness in the legs or feet.
  • Cervical Spine (Neck): Herniated discs in the cervical spine can cause neck pain and may lead to symptoms such as pain, numbness, or weakness radiating down the arms.

While the lumbar and cervical spine are more commonly affected, herniated discs can also occur in the thoracic spine (upper/mid-back), although this is less common.

Types of Herniated Disc

Herniated discs can occur in any part of the spine, and they are often classified based on their location:

  • Cervical Herniated Disc: Located in the neck (cervical spine), a herniated disc in this area can cause pain, numbness, and weakness that may radiate into the shoulders, arms, and hands.
  • Thoracic Herniated Disc: Thoracic herniated discs are relatively uncommon. They occur in the upper and middle back (thoracic spine) and can cause symptoms such as pain and discomfort radiating around the chest and abdomen.
  • Lumbar Herniated Disc: Lumbar herniated discs are the most common type and occur in the lower back (lumbar spine). Symptoms often include lower back pain, sciatica (radiating pain down the buttocks and legs), and muscle weakness in the legs.

Additionally, herniated discs are further classified based on the severity of the herniation:

  • Bulging Disc: The disc extends beyond its normal boundaries but has not ruptured. It may press against nearby structures, causing symptoms.
  • Contained Herniated Disc: The disc material has ruptured but remains within the outer layer of the disc.
  • Non-contained or Extruded Herniated Disc: The disc material has ruptured and extends beyond the outer layer, potentially causing compression of nearby nerves or the spinal cord.


The most prominent causes include:

  • Age-related Degeneration
  • Disc Wear and Tear (Degenerative Disc Disease
  • Improper Lifting Techniques
  • Excess Body Weight
  • Genetic Factors
  • Occupational Factors
  • Smoking
  • Injury or Trauma
  • Weak Core Muscles

Understanding these causes can help individuals take preventive measures, such as maintaining a healthy weight, practicing proper lifting techniques, and staying physically active to strengthen core muscles.

Primary symptoms of a herniated disc

The primary symptoms of a herniated disc can vary depending on the location of the affected disc and the nerves involved. However, common symptoms include:

  • Pain: Herniated discs often cause localized pain at the site of the affected disc. The pain can range from mild to severe and may be exacerbated by movement, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Radiating Pain (Sciatica): If the herniated disc compresses a nerve root, it can result in radiating pain along the path of the affected nerve.
  • Muscle Weakness: Nerve compression can lead to weakness in the muscles served by the affected nerves. This weakness may affect the ability to lift or hold objects.
  • Numbness and Tingling: Pressure on nerves can cause sensations of numbness and tingling in the areas served by the affected nerves.

Here are some home-based treatment options for managing mild symptoms of a herniated disc:

  • Rest
  • Cold or Heat Therapy
  • Over-the-Counter Pain Medications
  • Exercise
  • Posture and Body Mechanics
  • Maintain good posture
  • Weight Management

It’s crucial to note that these home-based treatments are generally suitable for mild cases or as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

Other Symptoms of a herniated disc

  • Intense and Persistent Pain: The pain may radiate to other parts of the body, such as the buttocks, legs, or arms, depending on the location of the affected disc.
  • Sciatica: Compression of the sciatic nerve due to a herniated disc in the lumbar spine can lead to sciatica.
  • Muscle Weakness: Herniated discs can cause compression of nerve roots, leading to muscle weakness and may impact mobility and daily activities.
  • Loss of Reflexes: Nerve compression resulting from a herniated disc can lead to a loss of reflexes in the affected areas. Reflexes are involuntary responses that occur when specific stimuli are applied to certain areas of the body.
  • Bowel or Bladder Dysfunction: This compression can lead to bowel or bladder dysfunction, causing symptoms such as incontinence, difficulty controlling bowel movements, or urinary retention. Cauda equina syndrome is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention.

Advanced treatment options

  • Physical Therapy : Physical therapists employ various modalities, such as ice or heat therapy, to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain .
  • Prescription Pain Medications: A healthcare provider may prescribe stronger pain medications, such as muscle relaxants or opioid analgesics. These are typically used for short-term relief and are closely monitored due to potential side effects and risks of dependence.
  • Epidural Steroid Injections : Corticosteroids can be injected directly into the epidural space around the affected nerve roots to reduce inflammation.
  • Manual Manipulation and Traction: Some individuals may benefit from chiropractic care or physical therapy involving manual manipulation or traction. These techniques aim to relieve pressure on the affected nerves and improve spinal alignment.
  • Decompression Procedures:
    • Laminectomy: This surgical procedure involves the removal of part or all of the lamina (the bony arch of the vertebra) to create more space for the nerves. It is often performed when conservative measures have failed, and there is significant nerve compression.
    • Microdiscectomy: This minimally invasive surgical procedure is targeted at removing the herniated portion of the disc, relieving pressure on the affected nerve. It is a common approach for treating severe symptoms.
  • Spinal Fusion: In cases where there is instability or excessive movement between vertebrae, spinal fusion may be recommended. This surgical procedure involves joining two or more vertebrae to stabilize the spine and prevent further disc herniation.
  • Artificial Disc Replacement: This involves removing the damaged disc and replacing it with an artificial disc to maintain spinal motion.
  • Nucleoplasty or Percutaneous Discectomy:  These minimally invasive procedures use radiofrequency energy or laser technology to remove or shrink the herniated disc material, reducing pressure on the nerves.

It’s crucial for individuals experiencing severe herniated disc symptoms to consult with a healthcare professional or a spine specialist for a thorough evaluation and personalized treatment plan.

What does a herniated disc feel like?

A dull ache to sharp, shooting sensations. Individuals with a herniated disc commonly describe the pain as intense, localized discomfort in the affected area of the spine. This pain may radiate to other parts of the body, such as the buttocks, legs, or arms, depending on the location of the herniation. Additionally, the sensation of numbness, tingling, or weakness in the extremities may be present.

Seeking a Diagnosis

When you suspect a herniated disc, seeking an accurate diagnosis is essential. Tests to confirm the presence of a herniated disc. These tests may include:

  • Physical examination: The doctor will evaluate your range of motion, reflexes, and muscle strength to assess any abnormalities.
  • Imaging tests : X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or computed tomography (CT) scans can provide detailed images of the spine, allowing for a clearer diagnosis.
  • Electromyogram (EMG) : This test is used to evaluate the electrical activity of your muscles and identify any nerve compression or damage.

With the right diagnosis in hand, you can move forward with confidence in pursuing the most appropriate treatment for your condition.

How Elite Pain and Spine helps you

At our clinic, we understand the debilitating impact that a herniated disc can have on your daily life. Our healthcare professionals is committed to providing comprehensive treatments and effective pain management strategies to help you find relief from the symptoms associated with herniated discs.

Treatment Approach:

  1. Accurate Diagnosis
  2. Pain Management
  3. Advanced Medical Procedures
  4. Minimally Invasive Procedures
  5. Posture and Ergonomics Education
  6. Holistic Approach

Living with a herniated disc can be challenging, but understanding the condition, seeking proper diagnosis, and exploring appropriate treatment and pain management options can significantly improve your quality of life. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is best to consult our doctor right away in order to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan, so don’t ignore the warning signs – seek help today!


  • Q. Can a herniated disc heal on its own?
  • A: In many cases, mild herniated discs can improve with conservative treatments such as rest, physical therapy, and medications. However, severe cases may require more advanced interventions or surgical procedures.
  • Q: When is surgery considered for a herniated disc?
  • A: Surgery may be considered if conservative treatments fail to provide relief, and the symptoms are severe or worsening. Common surgical interventions include microdiscectomy, laminectomy, or spinal fusion.
  • Q. Are all herniated discs symptomatic?
  • A: No, not all herniated discs cause symptoms. Some individuals may have a herniated disc without experiencing pain or other noticeable symptoms.
  • Q. Can chiropractic care be beneficial for a herniated disc?
  • A: Chiropractic care, including manual manipulation and traction, may provide relief for some individuals with herniated discs. However, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before seeking chiropractic treatment.