Your spinal disks are the cartilage-like material that sit between the individual vertebrae of your spine. They hold your spine in place as a column, providing flexibility and acting as a cushion between the vertebrae.

A herniated disk, also known as a slipped disk or ruptured disk, occurs when the inner material of a disk leaks through a tear in the outer wall.

Herniated Disk Symptoms

Herniated disk symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Muscle weakness
  • Impaired function

If the herniated disk is in your neck, the pain may extend from your neck down into your arm. In your lower back, the disk may compress the sciatic nerve and cause pain that extends down the leg — a condition commonly known as sciatica.

Our team of spine specialists will evaluate your pain and symptoms with a physical exam. They may also order an MRI or X-rays to get a picture of your injury and make a herniated disk diagnosis.

What Causes a Herniated Disk

There are a few things that can cause a herniated disk:

  • Direct trauma or impact (auto accident, fall)
  • Overuse (sports or work related repetitive motions)
  • Poor body mechanics with lifting
  • Poor posture
  • Breakdown of the disc due to age

Herniated Disk Treatment

Depending on the extent of your pain and the severity of the injury, your treatment options may include medication, physical therapy, chiropractic care or herniated disk surgery.

Nonsurgical Treatment

Conservative treatments (rest, ice, medications, therapy, exercise) should be tried first. Your provider may prescribe a neuromodulator to quiet or control the impulses in the nerves. Steroids, to reduce nerve inflammation and pressure, are also an option. Spinal injections deliver some medications, such as cortisone, directly to the affected disk.

Physical therapy gives you the education and tools to reduce pain and relieve the pressure of your herniated disk. Your therapist will design a daily stretching and exercise program specific to your physical needs and lifestyle. Herniated disk exercises focus on reducing symptoms, strengthening muscles and improving mobility. Your therapist will also teach you methods to reduce the stress on your spine during daily activities at home and at work.

You may also be a candidate for chiropractic care.

Herniated Disk Surgery

If symptoms persist after medication and therapy, we recommend the least invasive herniated disk surgery to preserve function and relieve symptoms. Most surgical procedures are done on an outpatient basis with the patient going home within 24 hours. Some patients with additional health concerns, such as myelopath, may need to stay an extra night.

In artificial disk replacement, the injured cervical (neck) disk is removed and replaced with an artificial disk that fits your body. The artificial disk is attached to the vertebrae above and below it and preserves the flexibility in the spine. In the case of a herniated disk in an otherwise healthy spine, artificial disk replacement is an excellent option.

In an anterior cervical diskectomy and fusion, the surgeon removes some or all of disk material that is compressing the nerve. After removal, the surgeon may insert a bone graft where the injured disk was to fuse the two vertebrae together and provide stability in the area. 

As with any surgery, there are risk associated with herniated disk surgery. Your doctor will go over these risks with you and make the best decision based on your individual needs. Please read "Laser Spine Surgery: What Does Science Say?" for a discussion of laser spine surgery risks versus those of non-laser approaches.