Site Map

Herniated disk

Lumbar radiculopathy; Cervical radiculopathy; Herniated intervertebral disk; Prolapsed intervertebral disk; Slipped disk; Ruptured disk; Herniated nucleus pulposus: Low back pain - herniated disk; LBP - herniated disk; Sciatica - herniated disk; Herniated disk; Disc - herniated

A herniated (slipped) disk occurs when all or part of a disk is forced through a weakened part of the disk. This may place pressure on nearby nerves or the spinal cord.

Images

Skeletal spine
Sciatic nerve
Herniated nucleus pulposus
Herniated disk repair
Herniated lumbar disk

Presentation

Lumbar spinal surgery - Series

Animation

Herniated nucleus pulposus (slipped disk)

I Would Like to Learn About:

Causes

The bones (vertebrae) of the spinal column protect nerves that come out of the brain and travel down your back to form the spinal cord. Nerve roots are large nerves that branch out from the spinal cord and leave your spinal column between each vertebra.

The spinal bones are separated by disks. These disks cushion the spinal column and put space between your vertebrae. The disks allow movement between the vertebrae, which lets you bend and reach.

With herniated disk:

A herniated disk is a cause of radiculopathy. This is a condition that affects the spinal nerve roots.

Slipped disks occur more often in middle-aged and older men, usually after strenuous activity. Other risk factors may include:

Symptoms

The pain most often occurs on one side of the body. Symptoms vary, depending on the site of injury, and may include the following:

The pain often starts slowly. It may get worse:

You may also have weakness in certain muscles. Sometimes, you may not notice it until your health care provider examines you. In other cases, you will notice that you have a hard time lifting your leg or arm, standing on your toes on one side, squeezing tightly with one of your hands, or other problems. Your bladder control may be lost.

The pain, numbness, or weakness often goes away or improves a lot over weeks to months.

Exams and Tests

A careful physical exam and history is almost always the first step. Depending on where you have symptoms, your provider examines your neck, shoulder, arms, and hands, or your lower back, hips, legs, and feet.

Your provider will check:

Your provider may also ask you to:

Leg pain that occurs when you sit on an exam table and lift your leg straight up usually suggests a slipped disk in your lower back.

In another test, you will bend your head forward and to the sides while the provider puts slight downward pressure on the top of your head. Increased pain or numbness during this test is usually a sign of pressure on a nerve in your neck.

DIAGNOSTIC TESTS

 Tests done may include: 

Treatment

The first treatment for a slipped disk is a short period of rest and taking medicines for the pain. This is followed by physical therapy. Most people who follow these treatments recover and return to normal activities. Some people will need to have more treatment. This may include steroid injections or surgery.

MEDICINES

Medicines can help with your pain. Your provider may prescribe any of the following:

LIFESTYLE CHANGES

If you are overweight, diet and exercise are very important for improving back pain.

Physical therapy is important for nearly everyone with disk disease. Therapists will teach you how to properly lift, dress, walk, and perform other activities. They teach you how to strengthen muscles that help support the spine. You will also learn how to increase flexibility in your spine and legs.

Take care of your back at home:

INJECTIONS

Steroid medicine injections into the back in the area of the herniated disk may help control pain for several months. These injections reduce swelling around the spinal nerve and disk and relieve many symptoms. They do not solve the underlying problem and your pain may return after weeks or months. Spinal injections are an outpatient procedure.

SURGERY

Surgery may be an option if your symptoms do not go away with other treatments and time.

One such surgery is diskectomy, which removes all or part of a disk.

Discuss with your provider which treatment options are best for you.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most people improve with treatment. But you may have long-term back pain, even after treatment.

It may take several months to a year or more to go back to all of your activities without having pain or straining your back. People who work in jobs that involve heavy lifting or back strain may need to change their job activities to avoid injuring their back again.

Possible Complications

In rare cases, the following problems can occur:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you have:

Prevention

To help prevent back injury:

Your provider may suggest a back brace to help support the spine. A brace may prevent injuries in people who lift heavy objects at work. But using these devices too much can weaken the muscles that support your spine and make the problem worse.

Related Information

Strains
Diskectomy

References

Gardocki RJ, Park AL. Degenerative disorders of the thoracic and lumbar spine. In: Azar FM, Beaty JH, Canale ST, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 39.

Magee DJ. Lumbar spine. In: Magee DJ, ed. Orthopedic Physical Assessment. 6th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 9.

Sudhir A, Perina D. Musculoskeletal back pain. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 47.

BACK TO TOP

Review Date: 7/25/2020  

Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

ADAM Quality Logo

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, for Health Content Provider (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics. This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information: verify here.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2021 A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Firefox and Google Chrome browser.