What is a Herniated Disc?

in Back Pain / November 17th, 2017

Pain, weakness, or numbness in your back? Sciatic discomfort in your rear or burning and tingling down your leg? You may have a herniated disc.

Most herniated discs occur in the lower back — though, they can technically occur anywhere along the spine. If you have one, a herniated disc can cause major daily discomfort and pain, not to mention a complete disruption of your daily life. It’s best to seek professional help for herniated disc treatment, as this condition will not likely go away on its own.

What is a Spinal Disc?

To understand a herniated disc, you first need to know what a spinal disc is.  Your spine consists of 33 interlocking bones. These are called vertebrae. In between each vertebrae is a small intervertebral disc or spinal disc.

Each disc is like a capsule, made of strong, connective tissue on the outside and a soft, gel-like substance on the inside. Essentially, these soft discs act as “shock absorbers” for your spine.

Issues of the Spinal Discs

Unfortunately, when one of them moves, bulges, or ruptures, it can cause severe back pain.  Most back pain is caused by issues of the spinal discs and will fall into one of two categories:

Degenerative Disc Disease

A symptomatic degenerative disc refers to the disc space itself being the source of pain because the spinal disc is degenerating. Contrary to the term’s seemingly dire meaning, it’s not an actual disease. Degeneration of the disc is normal with aging, and although there are treatments, the pain will not necessarily escalate with age.

Herniated Disc

Unlike disc degeneration, a herniated disc means one of your spinal discs has ruptured or torn, and in turn, the gel-like substance inside has bulged out. This is why a herniated disc may be sometimes called a bulging disc , a slipped disc , or a ruptured disc.

Most of the time, the actual bulging out of the gel from a herniated disc is not the source of pain. Instead, it’s the fact that the gel-like substance may touch and irritate nearby nerves. This can easily result in pain, discomfort, weakness, and numbness. It is also why a herniated disc is sometimes called a pinched nerve.

Medical Terminology

As you learn more about herniated discs, you’ll immediately see that there’s some discrepancy surrounding the terminology. That is, there are an inordinate number of terms used to describe pain in the spine, and not all of them mean the same thing, yet they’re often used interchangeably.

Confusing, right?

The reason that all of these terms — bulging disc, disc protrusion, pinched nerve, ruptured disc, slipped disc, herniated disc — are thrown around is that they’re attempting to describe what’s actually going on in the back to cause the pain.


In the end, a final back pain diagnosis must be undertaken by a board-certified medical professional with experience in spinal care. To determine the cause and source of the pain, this specialist will consider four factors:

  • A complete physical exam of the patient
  • The patient’s medical history
  • The patient’s description of the pain location, frequency, and intensity
  • Diagnostic tests, as needed

Once the specialist gathers the necessary diagnostic information, they’ll be able to tell the patient what condition the back pain is arising from.

Treatment for a Herniated Disc

The first thing to know about treating a herniated disc is that there is no single treatment course. Instead, treatment will require working one-on-one with a specialist who will tailor a treatment regimen to the patient’s particular symptoms and needs.

The primary goal of treatment for this condition is to a) relieve pain and b) avoid surgery if possible. At The Spine & Sports Health Center, we have numerous treatment avenues that can conservatively relieve pain and other herniated disc symptoms without the need for invasive surgery.

Here are just some of the conservative treatment approaches we offer:

Not Sure if You Have a Herniated Disc?

At The Spine & Sports Health Center, our board-certified specialists will exam you and give you an accurate diagnosis of your back pain. We’ll also create an effective treatment program that caters to you and your unique condition.

Start by giving The Spine & Sports Health Center a call today at (201) 535-2474. You can also fill out this contact form, and someone will return your inquiry as soon as possible. The Spine & Sports Health Center has three convenient locations throughout Hudson County: Jersey City, Hoboken, and Bayonne.

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