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Herniated Disks

The bones in your spine are cushioned by small, round discs that act as shock absorbers for your back. These discs have a tough outer layer and a soft inner portion.  A herniated, or ruptured, disc occurs when a tear in the outer ring allows the inner portion to bulge out, releasing inflammatory chemicals that can cause severe pain. A disc can rupture as a result of trauma, from a lifting injury or simply as the result of the normal wear and tear of aging. Herniated discs can occur anywhere in the spine, but are most common in the lower back.

At SSM Health, our back and spine specialists understand how the pain from a herniated disc can disrupt your life. If you have back pain that isn’t improving with self-care techniques like rest and over-the-counter pain relievers, schedule an appointment with our back pain team. Our goal is to help you find relief as quickly and safely as possible, so you can get back to doing the things you love.

Signs & Symptoms of a Herniated Disc

Symptoms, which can range widely and depend on the location of the ruptured disc, may include:

  • Mild to severe pain in the neck and arms for cervical discs or in the lower back and legs for lumbar discs
  • Pain in the thighs, knees or feet
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Muscular weakness and even paralysis

Treating Herniated Discs

In most cases, a herniated disc does not require surgery. Care usually involves a combination of more conservative treatments, including:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Cortisone injections
  • Physical therapy
  • Antidepressants
  • Graduated exercise programs

Back surgery is typically considered a last resort when your back pain does not improve with more conservative treatment or if you have a significant neurological loss. SSM Health offers a variety of advanced surgical procedures to treat herniated discs, which include:

  • Chemonucleoysis - enzymes are injected into a herniated disc to dissolve it.
  • Intradiscal electrothermic therapy (IDET) - a minimally invasive treatment that heats the outer layer of the disc to seal small tears and destroy nerve fibers.
  • Discectomy - removes a disc through a small incision to relieve nerve compression.
  • Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion - removes an intervertebral disc in the cervical spine and replaces it with a bone graft, eventually fusing the vertebrae back together.
  • Lumber fusion - joins two or more vertebrae together in the lower spine, using supplemental bone tissue in combination with the body’s natural bone growth.
  • Artificial disc replacement - replaces degenerated intervertebral discs with artificial ones, available for both cervical and lumbar spines.

If you have a herniated disc, your care team will explain your options to you and help you determine the best way forward. We understand that you’re anxious to find relief from your pain, so you can get back to your daily activities. Find an SSM Health provider today to get the comprehensive, compassionate care you deserve.

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