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What Is A Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc results when a damaged intervertebral disc, which serves as a cushion between the vertebrae, has a tear in its outer covering and releases its inner gel-like material, possibly compressing a spinal nerve or pressing on a spinal cord.


Intervertebral discs are made of a soft, gel-like material, and are encased in a tough exterior. When the gel-like material spills out of a tear in the exterior of the disc and protrudes outside of its normal position, it is referred to as a herniated disc. Frequently, herniated disc cause pain by compressing a spinal nerve or the spinal cord itself. Other terms that are sometimes used interchangeably with “herniated disc” include “slipped,” “ruptured, “or “protruded” disc.

Symptoms of Herniated Disc

While some disc herniations never produce pain, others can produce pain ranging from mild tingling to intense stabbing. Herniated discs may occur in any section of the spine, and symptoms may include:


Common symptoms of Herniated Disc include:

  • In the lumbar spine: pain, numbness, tingling, burning, and weakness in the lower back, buttocks, legs, and feet. When the herniation compresses the sciatic nerve, sciatica can develop.
  • In the cervical spine: pain, numbness, tingling, burning, and weakness in the neck, arms, hands, and sometimes in the head
  • In the thoracic spine (less common): pain in the upper or mid back, radiating through the stomach or chest, which patients often confuse for cardiovascular problems


Prior to having a surgical procedure to treat your herniated disc, conservative measures such as physical therapy, chiropractic, and steroid injections should be attempted. If these measures do not meaningfully relieve your pain, a North American Spine procedure may be in order.

Causes of Herniated Disc

Herniated discs occur when pressure on a spinal disc damages or breaks down the once healthy disc, causing the outer covering to tear and release the interior disc material. Potential causes of this pressure include:


Additional common Herniated Disc causes include:

  • Age-related wear and tear, which can lead to Degenerative Disc Disease
  • Back or neck strain due to repetitive physical activity, poor posture, imbalances in the musculature, or heavy lifting
  • Direct physical injuries such as a car accident or fall
  • Genetics, whether or not the symptoms appeared in your parents


In some cases, damage only affects the inner layers of the disc’s outer covering and leaves the inside of the disc intact—this describes a bulging disc. In other cases, the outside of the disc tears and the disc’s inner gel-like substance leaks out into the surrounding spaces in the spinal column—this describes a herniated disc.

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