Key Points about Herniated Disc (Spinal Disc Herniation) 

  • The most frequent cause of a herniated disc is age-related wear-and-tear on the spine.
  • Specialists diagnose herniated discs using a combination of physical examination and imaging tests.
  • Treatment for herniated discs fractures typically includes a mix of pain relievers, physical therapy, other medications or surgery.
Common related conditions
Compression Fractures Disc (Disk) Herniation Herniated Disc
Your spine is comprised of individual bones, vertebrae. Between each of these vertebrae are rubbery cushions, called discs. A herniated disc occurs when there is a problem with one of the disks between your vertebrae. Often, a herniated disc irritates a nearby spinal nerve.

Herniated disc causes 

Possible causes of a herniated disc include:

  • Disk degeneration (gradual, age-related wear-and-tear)
  • Lifting a very heavy object
  • Traumatic injury to the back
  • Twisting or turning while lifting a heavy object

Herniated disc risk factors

Factors that can increase your risk of developing a herniated disc include:

  • Being a smoker
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having a physically demanding job that includes repetitive lifting, pulling, pushing, twisting or bending
  • Having specific genetics that predispose you to develop herniated discs

Herniated disc symptoms

Signs and symptoms of a herniated disc vary based on which disc is affected, and they usually only affect one side of the body. They include:

  • Arm or leg pain
  • Muscle weakness in the area of the body controlled by the affected nerves
  • Numbness or tingling in the area of the body controlled by the affected nerves

Herniated disc diagnosis

Your specialist may use the following tests to diagnose your herniated disc:

Physical exam. Your specialist will complete a thorough physical exam, including asking questions about your health history. Your specialist may also perform a neurological exam that checks your reflexes, muscle strength, ability to walk and ability to feel light touches to the skin.

Imaging tests. Your doctor may order an imaging test – such as an X-ray, computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – to get a closer look at your spine and located herniated discs.

Nerve tests. Your specialist may recommend a nerve test – such as a nerve conduction study or electromyography (EMG) to check how well electrical impulses are moving along your nerves. This can help your specialist locate the site of your nerve damage.

Herniated disc treatment

Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments for your herniated disc:

  • Pain relievers. If your pain is mild or moderate, your specialist may recommend you take over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • Cortisone injections. If oral pain relievers aren’t enough, your specialist may use a corticosteroid injection to help reduce the pain. These are injected directly into the site of the herniated disc.
  • Muscle relaxers. If you experience muscle spasms related to your herniated disc, your specialist may recommend you take muscle relaxers to help reduce spasms.
  • Physical therapy. Working with a physical therapist can help decrease the pain you feel from your herniated disc.
  • Surgery. If more conservative treatments are not effective, your specialist may recommend you undergo a surgical procedure in which they remove the area of your disc that is sticking out. In rarer cases, the entire disc will need to be removed.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a spine specialist for more specialized treatment.