"What is a Herniated Disc?"

A herniated disc is an injury or tearing to the annulus fibrosus of an intervertebral disc. In the human spine you have 24 vertabrae with a intervertebral "disc" between each. A herniated disc may have an impact on pain-sensitive structures like ligaments and nerve roots. Herniated discs are often a source of back pain.

A herniated disc is a general term used by most lay people to describe a lumbar HNP or herniated nucleus pulposus.

A herniated disc occurs when there is a "tear" in the annular fibers that hold the "jelly" like material of the disc into place.

This "disc" of jelly like material is quite hydrophilic, containing much water. It serves as a sort of shock absorber for your spine. As we get older the amount of water that resides in the "disc" becomes much less.

Picture of a herniated disc.

What Causes a Herniated Disc?

When a disc has a herniation or tear, the material may extrude and compress on a spinal nerve root. This can cause symptoms of pain, numbness and/or muscle weakness.

Usually, symptoms are unilateral and present only on one side. People presenting this way often term the condition "Sciatica". This is not completely accurate as irritation to the sciatic nerve may occur for several different reasons.

Causes for a HNP can be age related, traumatic (such as a MVA or slip and fall), or due in part to postural dysfunction in sitting.

What is the Treatment for a Herniated Disc?

Treatment may include physical therapy, therapeutic massage therapy, chiropractic treatment, lumbar traction, and epidural steroid injections. Epidural steroid injections are usually limited to a series of three.

When conservative care fails, surgical intervention in the way of a spinal decompression may be in order.

Tommy Hoffman, P.T. By Tommy Hoffman, Licensed Physical Therapist

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