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Herniated Disc

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Herniated Disc

(Herniation of Nucleus Pulposus [HNP]; Prolapsed Disc; Ruptured Disc; Slipped Disc)


A herniated disc is a bulging of one of the small, round discs between the bones of the spine. A disc that bulges from its proper place puts pressure on spinal nerves. It can cause pain and weakness in limbs. Problems are more common in the lower spine.

Herniated Lumbar Disc

Nucleus factsheet image Disc Herniation with Pinching of Spinal NerveNULLjpgLumbar Disc Herniation with Pinching of Spinal NerveNULL\\filer01\Intellect\images\FX00004.jpgCopyright © 2002 Nucleus Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.49NULL2002-10-012352202725_11794280390Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


A herniated disc may be caused by:

  • The natural aging process (most common cause)
  • Genetics
  • Poor posture and body mechanics
  • Too much pressure on the spine, such as from an inactive lifestyle
  • Recent trauma, such as a fall or motor vehicle accident

Risk Factors

A herniated disc is more common in older adults. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Obesity
  • A history of low back pain
  • Long periods of standing and bending forward
  • Smoking
  • Strenuous activities, such as heavy lifting
  • Genetic problems related to discs


The main symptom is pain that may:

  • Be sharp, dull, piercing, aching, burning, or throbbing
  • Spread over the back, buttocks, down the back of one thigh, and into the calf or through shoulders and arms
  • Be in one leg or both legs or arms

Other problems may be:

  • Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the legs, feet, or in one or both arms
  • A sudden aching or twisted neck that cannot be straightened without feeling pain
  • Numbness in the groin (rare)
  • Bowel or bladder changes (rare)


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the spine.

Pictures may be taken of the spine. This can be done with:


Most people start to feel better in a few days or weeks. Staying active may be better than full rest. The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms. Choices are:

  • Supportive care, such as not sitting for long periods of time, avoiding things that cause pain, and using cold or warm compresses
  • Physical therapy to promote strength, flexibility, and range of motion
  • Medicines, such as:
    • Over the counter or prescription pain relievers
    • Steroid injections to ease pain and swelling

People who are not helped by these methods may need surgery. Choices are:

  • Laminectomy to remove some of the bone over the spine and problem disc
  • Microdiscectomy to remove fragments of herniated disc through a small cut
  • Spinal fusion to fuse vertebrae together with bone grafts or metal rods (rare)


Physical activity and strength training may help some people prevent herniated discs.





  • Herniated disk in the lower back. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at:
  • Lumbar disk herniation. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.