Discs are small circular cushions between the bones in the spine. The bones are called vertebrae. The discs are compressible. They act as cushions for the vertebrae. A herniated disc happens when discs in the spine bulge from their proper place. This is most common in the lower spine.
Herniated Lumbar Disc
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Herniated discs can occur when discs lose water content, become flatter, and provide less cushioning. If they become too weak, the outer part may tear. The inside part of the disc may then push through the tear. This can put pressure on the nerves next to the disc.
These factors increase your chance of developing a herniated disc:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your spine will be examined. The doctor will test the movement, strength, and reflexes of the arms and legs.
Treatments may include:
Your doctor may prescribe:
Surgery may be used for people who fail to respond to other treatments. Immediate surgery is necessary for cauda equina syndrome. Options include:
To help reduce your chances of getting a herniated disc, take the following steps:
American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons
American Chiropractic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Awad JN. Moskovich R. Lumbar disc herniations: surgical versus nonsurgical treatment. Clinical Orthopaedics & Related Research. 2006;443:183-197.
Ellenberg M, Honet JC. Frontera: Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Philadelphia, PA: Hanley and Belfus; 2002, chap 46.
Goldmann DR. American College of Physicians Complete Home Medical Guide. New York, NY: DK Publishing; 1999.
Slipman CW, Derby R, Simeone FA, Mayer TG. Interventional Spine: An Algorithmic Approach. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2008.
When you have a herniated disc. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2003/0515/p2195.html. Published 2003. Accessed July 2, 2008.
Last reviewed September 2011 by John C. Keel, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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