What is a Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc (also can be called a slipped disc or ruptured disc) occurs when a portion of a spinal disc, located between your vertebrae, becomes displaced (herniates) into the spinal canal or into the nerve canal. Spinal discs are normally filled with a gel-like substance, and act as shock absorbers between your vertebrae.

Disc herniations occur due to general wear and tear or due to an injury. A small tear can develop in the ligament surrounding the disc. A tear allows a small portion of the disc material to herniate out of its normal place. While a disc tear can cause back pain and spasm, the escaped disc fragment can cause nerve root compression or spinal cord compression. Nerve root compression from the disc fragment can lead to arm or leg pain, numbness, or weakness. The location of pain depends on which disc is herniated and which nerve root is compressed.

What are the Symptoms of a Herniated Disc?

Symptoms of a herniated disc vary greatly, but can include:

  • Back pain (from a Lumbar disc)
  • Neck Pain (from a Cervical disc)
  • Sharp pain near the spine
  • Muscle spasm near the spine
  • Numbness or tingling of the arm or leg
  • Weakness of the arm or leg

How is a Herniated Disc Diagnosed? 

Because herniated discs often resolve on their own, a formal diagnosis is often not necessary unless the patient has been feeling symptoms for several weeks or has a loss of neurological function (numbness or weakness). A ruptured disc can be diagnosed by:

  • MRI
  • CT scan or myelogram
  • X-ray (while this cannot detect the slipped disc itself, it can be used to detect any larger issues in the vertebrae)

What is Available for Herniated Disc Treatment?

Often, a patient with a simple herniated disc can recover on their own within a few days to a few weeks. A course of over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (like Advil, Motrin, or Aleve) often helps to ease the back pain. Your doctor might prescribe a short course of oral steroids and muscle relaxants for more severe symptoms, or an epidural steroid injection for more long-standing symptoms. Physical therapy is often prescribed to help faster recovery.

If these conservative treatments are not effective, or if there is numbness or weakness, your doctor may recommend surgical herniated disc treatment, which usually involves a simple discectomy procedure.

What Type of Physician Should Treat a Slipped Disc in the Back?

A neurologist, neurosurgeon, or physiatrist (pain management specialist) will be able to diagnose and treat a bulging or herniated disc. Depending on the severity, a neurosurgeon may be involved if symptoms are persistent or if symptoms are more severe. Our comprehensive spine team includes physiatrists, neurosurgeons, and orthopedic surgeons so patients can see the best experts in one practice. This ensures patients are offered the most appropriate treatment for their condition and can evaluated and treated as efficiently as possible.

What is the Recovery Time for a Herniated Disc?

Recovery from a slipped disc can take several weeks. Often, full recovery will occur without any surgical herniated disc treatment. A slow return to normal activity, including a gradual return to normal bending, lifting, and twisting helps ensure symptoms improve as soon as possible. If surgery is needed, such as a simple discectomy, a full recovery is often possible in several weeks to a couple of months, but the pain often improves quite rapidly following surgical decompression.

What Should I Do if I Think I Might Have a Herniated Disc?

Reach out to our spine specialists at New Jersey Brain and Spine to speak to an expert who can help diagnose your condition and provide the best herniated disc treatment plan for you. Click here to contact us.