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What's a Herniated Disc and What Causes It?

Herniated discs are a fairly common condition. It affects women more than men, as well as those who are 35 to 55 years of age. While researchers haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact reason for this, understanding more about why herniated discs happen and how to prevent and treat them is still important. At the practice, the doctor wants to ensure that all your orthopedic needs are fully covered and that you’re completely informed. 

What a herniated disc is

To understand what a herniated disc is, you first need to understand how our spines work. The human spinal cord is comprised of bones, called vertebrae, and the discs that lie between them called cartilage cushions. 

These discs have a tough exterior and a jelly-like interior. When you have a herniated disc, this same jelly-like interior slips or leaks out. This herniation can aggravate nearby nerves, causing pain, weakness, or numbing. The pain strikes in your back and travels down your arms or legs. 

For some people, a herniated disc could present no symptoms at all, meaning you could have a herniated disc and not even know it. 

Causes and risk factors for herniated discs

More often than not, a herniated disc is caused by the aging process, which leads to wear, tear, and degeneration in your body. As we age, our spinal discs lose water content, leaving them less flexible and more prone to tearing. 

Many people also find themselves with a herniated disc from using their back muscles instead of their leg muscles to lift a heavy object. Physical trauma, like a fall or a heavy blow, can also cause a herniated disc, but this is more rare. 

There are some factors that place you at an increased risk for developing a herniated disc and these include:

It’s important to seek medical care sooner rather than later, as leaving a herniated disc untreated can lead to serious complications. Your symptoms, like pain, numbness, and weakness, can progress to a point where you’re unable to function. 

You could also experience a loss of bladder or bowel dysfunction or numbing in the areas around your inner thighs, the back of your legs, and the area around your rectum.  

Treating a herniated disc

To diagnose your herniated disc, we’ll first run a series of imaging tests, which may include an X-ray, a CT scan, or an MRI to see where and what’s bothering you. 

Depending on the nature of your herniated disc, we may recommend a couple of different options, including:


Over the counter NSAIDS, or nonsteroidal antiinflammatory medications can help manage symptoms by targeting the pain and inflammation associated with herniated discs. Narcotics can be helpful in the case of severe pain. 

Muscle relaxers and anticonvulsants can manage spasms and shooting pains. Cortisone injections can be helpful, as they are comprised of anti-inflammatory steroids that are injected directly into the problem disc. 

Physical therapy 

Physical therapy can be helpful on its own if your herniated disc is not too severe. It can also act as a supplemental treatment following surgery. The goal of physical therapy is to help you gain strength and flexibility and to minimize pain. 


This is not always necessary, but a small group of people with herniated discs will eventually require surgery. You may need surgery if more conservative methods fail or if your herniated disc is severe.

With surgery, we will either repair the herniated disc or remove it entirely and perform a spinal fusion. With a fusion, the vertebrae are melded together with metal hardware to keep your spine stable. In very rare instances, we may need to implant an artificial disc after removing the damaged one.  

Treat your herniated disc today

Don’t wait for your herniated disc to progress. Leaving it untreated can lead to dangerous consequences, like incontinence or paralysis. If you suspect that you may have a herniated disc or any other orthopedic issue, call Interventional Pain Management Services at your preferred location to schedule an appointment today. 

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