Accessibility Tools

What Is a Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc is a common source of neck and back pain. This condition occurs when the firm outer border of a spinal disc tears open, allowing some of the disc’s soft inner gel material to push through the breach and invade the spinal canal. While this type of damage can occur through direct trauma, a herniated disc is more often a result of age-related spinal degeneration.

What does it feel like to have a herniated disc?

A herniated disc can cause varying degrees of discomfort – and sometimes none at all. Any associated pain is usually a result of nerve compression caused by a herniated disc, rather than the herniation itself. For instance, a compressed nerve in the lower back can cause sciatica, which is characterized by sharp, shooting pains that extend from the buttocks down the back of one leg to the corresponding foot. Other symptoms include:

  • Lower back pain
  • Muscle weakness in a leg or foot
  • Numbness or tingling sensations in a leg or foot
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control (a rare but serious complication known as cauda equina syndrome, which warrants emergency medical attention)

Likewise, if a herniated disc causes nerve compression in the neck, it can produce pain in the trapezius muscles between the neck and shoulders. Other possible symptoms include:

  • Burning pain that travels from the neck through a shoulder, arm and hand
  • Muscle weakness in an arm or hand
  • Numbness or pins-and-needles sensations in an arm or hand

How is a herniated disc treated?

Herniated disc symptoms often resolve on their own or with conservative treatment over the course of several weeks. Many people do well with a brief period of rest, activity modifications, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), hot/cold compresses and physical therapy. In general, spine surgery is recommended only as a last resort for addressing severe or disabling symptoms.

At Advanced Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine of Houston, Texas, we offer both conservative and surgical herniated disc treatments ranging from physical therapy and prescription medications to corticosteroid injections and spinal decompression surgery. Our team will evaluate your general health, symptoms and imaging scans to help you find the best approach to treatment. If you experience numbness around your saddle area or lose bladder or bowel control, we encourage you to seek immediate medical attention. These are signs of a serious complication known as cauda equina syndrome, which may require emergency surgery to alleviate nerve compression.

To learn more about our approach to herniated disc treatment, contact Advanced Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine of Houston, TX, to speak with a spine specialist today.