Ruptured Disc, Back Pain, Herniated Disc, Back Pain (2023)

Back and Neck Pain

Back pain is one of the most common human afflictions and most people experience neck pain at some point in their lives as well. These conditions can be acute or chronic. Back and neck pain may follow an injury or develop unrelated to activity. The spinal area consists of the spinal cord, bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and nerves, all of which can contribute to the sensation of pain. The pain message is delivered to the brain via the nerves and spinal cord. Pain that continues for a long period of time can cause anxiety and stress for the individual, which can begin an unpleasant cycle of physical pain and emotional stress.

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Neck pain can radiate into the shoulder, upper back and arm while lower back pain is often felt in the hip or leg. Spine-related pain becomes more common as one ages. Common causes include age-related degenerative disorders, improper lifting and chronic wear and tear, but there are dozens of possible causes. Often, back and neck pain resolve on their own or with minimal intervention such as rest, pain medicine or anti-inflammatory medication. Severe or ongoing pain warrants a medical evaluation.

Ruptured Disk and Disk Injuries

The vertebrae of the spine protect the spinal cord and give supportive structure to the back. A disc is found between each of the vertebrae, which provides cushioning and protection. Injury and degeneration can damage these discs, resulting in a variety of spinal problems.

Bulging Discs
A bulging disc occurs when the disc extends beyond the space it should occupy. This condition is common among adults and is often considered to be a natural part of the aging process. A large portion of the disc is typically involved and the misshapened disc is often discovered during diagnostic testing rather than because of patient symptoms. Bulging discs usually require no treatment other than following good ergonomic practices and avoiding back strain.

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Herniated / Ruptured / Slipped Discs
A ruptured disc, also called a herniated disc or a slipped disc, may become painful if it causes pressure on a nerve root or the spinal cord. The disc is referred to as being ruptured because the tough outer lining has ruptured or split, allowing some of the inner disc cartilage to be released. The inner disc cartilage, or nucleus, feels like cooked crab meat or shrimp when squished between your fingers. When this material presses against a nearby nerve root or the spinal cord, pain in the back or pain, numbness, or tingling in the body or limb areas served by the nerve may become evident. The sufferer may notice impaired movement in the affected area. In some cases, such as when no nerve root is severely compressed, no symptoms of a ruptured disc are apparent and the patient may be unaware of it until it is found during diagnostic testing.

Treatment for a ruptured disc is often dependent on whether or not the patient is experiencing symptoms. Chronic pain or interference with the ability to work or care for oneself frequently necessitate treatment, including physical therapy, a short course of pain medication, or muscle relaxants. Often, a brief rest period is ordered, followed by stretching or strengthening exercises. Occasionally, surgery is required when conservative measures fail or symptoms such as loss of bowel or bladder control are present. Some patients are candidates for minimally invasive spinal surgery to relieve severe symptoms. A herniated disc without symptoms requires no treatment other than following good ergonomic practices and avoiding back strain.

Collapsed
The condition known as a “collapsed” disc occurs when a disc between two vertebrae loses height in its outer, tough layer. The disc doesn’t actually collapse, but the compression due to height loss can affect the spinal nerves or spinal cord. This condition is frequently the result of the aging process, as the disc dries out and reduces in size over the years. Other degenerative conditions may also cause this spine problem. When the disc becomes compressed, there is less room for the nerves and spinal cord. Also, less cushioning can cause the vertebrae to grind against each other, irritating the nerve.

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A patient may have no symptoms of a collapsed disc, but if the spinal cord or a nerve root is involved, pain, weakness, numbness or tingling may be noticeable in the area served by the nerve. Treatment typically consists of rest, physical therapy, special exercises, pain medication, or injections into the epidural space. Some patients are candidates for minimally invasive spinal surgery to relieve severe symptoms.

Disc Rupture or Herniation

Spinal disc rupture or herniation (“slipped disc”) occurs when there is a tear in the fibrous outer ring of the intervertebral disc, which permits the soft inner portion of the disc to protrude outwards beyond the outer ring. Disc rupture is usually proceeded by disc protrusion, in which the soft inner portion of the disc protrudes when the disc is under pressure (i.e. during lifting). Disc rupture is often a result of degeneration of the spine, although trauma may also cause this condition. Minor herniations may heal on their own with conservative treatment, but more severe herniations may require surgery.

Bone Spurs

Bone spurs, sometimes called ostephytes, are bony growths that develop over time. As a spinal disc or joint wears down, the ligaments around it become loose. Eventually, the ligaments toughen and these bony growths may appear. Many bone spurs fail to produce symptoms or cause damage; they are often considered a natural part of aging although they sometimes have another cause. If they press upon a nerve or the spinal cord, however, discomfort may become apparent. Bone spurs can cause pain upon standing and walking. If the spur is in the neck region, pain may radiate into the shoulders or the sufferer may experience a headache. Spurs in the lower back may cause pain that radiates into the legs. If a nerve becomes increasingly compressed by a bone spur, weakness, tingling, and numbness of the affected limbs may develop. Treatments may include a brief initial rest period, muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory medication, epidural injections, physical therapy, and exercise. When a bone spur severely compresses a nerve or the spinal cord, surgery may be required. Some patients are candidates for minimally invasive spinal surgery to relieve severe symptoms.

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Degenerative Spine

Degenerative spine conditions are defined as those that cause a gradual loss of function and healthy spine structure over time. While often considered a normal part of the aging process, they may also be due to arthritis, infection, tumor or other condition. Degenerative conditions may be painful and they may cause nerve irritation or impingement. Symptoms include chronic pain, occasional sharp pains, limited range of motion, and physical deformity. Degenerative spine conditions with nerve involvement may cause weakness or numbness of a limb. Occasionally, sufferers will experience bladder, bowel, or sexual dysfunction as the result of a degenerative spine condition compressing a nerve. Degenerative spine conditions are usually found on an x-ray, CT scan, or MRI. Typical treatments include a short period of rest, physical therapy, medication, exercise, or temporary bracing. Surgery is sometimes needed to relieve unrelenting pain or restore function. Some patients are candidates for minimally invasive spinal surgery to relieve severe symptoms.

Vertebral Compression Fractures

Vertebral compression fractures occur when one or more vertebra in the spine break, often in the lower back. The most common cause is osteoporosis, but a car accident, fall, or other condition can also be at fault. Common symptoms include pain in the back or neck that may also be felt in the hip, leg, or abdomen. Pain may come on suddenly or develop over time. Weakness, tingling, or numbness may be experienced if the fracture leads to nerve compression. In some cases, the sufferer may experience bowel or bladder dysfunction. A person with vertebral compression fractures due to osteoporosis may experience height loss or have a stooped-over appearance. Diagnosis is usually made by x-ray, CT scan, or MRI. Many fractures heal on their own. Typical treatments consist of pain medication, muscle relaxants, rest, carefully directed exercises, or a back brace. Patients with osteoporosis or osteopenia are encouraged to ensure adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D, and patients with osteoporosis may have other medication recommended. A procedure called kyphoplasty may be recommended. This involves the insertion of a small catheter into the partially collapsed vertebral bone, and then restoring the height of the collapse bone by inflating with fluid a special balloon inserted through the catheter. After removal of the balloon, the opened space is then filled with bone cement. In rare cases, a larger surgery may be indicated to stabilize the spine or reduce pressure upon the spinal cord.

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FAQs

How painful is a ruptured disc? ›

If you have a herniated lumbar disc, you may feel pain that radiates from your low back area, down one or both legs, and sometimes into your feet (called sciatica). You may feel a pain like an electric shock that is severe whether you stand, walk, or sit.

What does a ruptured disk in your back feel like? ›

Pain is often described as sharp or burning. Numbness or tingling. People who have a herniated disk often have radiating numbness or tingling in the body part served by the affected nerves.

Does a ruptured disc ever fully heal? ›

Sokunbi notes, “and sometimes don't have the ability to heal completely.” Most often, herniated discs in healthy patients heal quickly. However, nerve compression bad enough to cause radiculopathy—pain radiating down the nerve to an arm or leg—may take longer to get better, says Dr. Butler.

Is herniated and ruptured disc the same? ›

Herniated disks are also called ruptured disks or slipped disks, although the whole disk does not rupture or slip. Only the small area of the crack is affected. Compared with a bulging disk, a herniated disk is more likely to cause pain because it generally protrudes farther and is more likely to irritate nerve roots.

Why is there excruciating pain with herniated discs? ›

Discs that become herniated usually are in an early stage of degeneration. The spinal canal has limited space, which is inadequate for the spinal nerve and the displaced herniated disc fragment. Due to this displacement, the disc presses on spinal nerves, often producing pain, which may be severe.

How long does it take for a ruptured lumbar disc to heal? ›

The average amount of time it takes for a herniated disk to heal is four to six weeks, but it can get better within a few days depending on how severe the herniation was and where it occurred. The biggest factor in healing a herniated disk is time, because most often it will resolve on its own.

Can you work with ruptured discs? ›

With herniated discs, you would not be able to perform a variety of job tasks. You can't work in construction, manufacturing, or warehouse jobs because they require regular reaching, lifting, and carrying. Your limited mobility and pain would make those activities impossible.

Can you make a ruptured disc worse? ›

An untreated herniated disk can get worse. That's especially true if you continue the activities that caused it — for instance, if it developed because of your work. A worsening ruptured disk may cause chronic (ongoing) pain and loss of control or sensation in the affected area.

How do you live with a ruptured disc? ›

Types of treatment your doctor may recommend include: Pain medication such as over the counter muscle relaxants. Physical therapy to strengthen back muscles and reduce pressure on the disc. Injections of steroids to reduce inflammation – one or more shots over time.

How do doctors repair a ruptured disc? ›

A Laminotomy and discectomy is the standard surgical procedure for treatment of a lumbar herniated disc. The surgeon removes a small portion of the bone to gain access to the spinal canal (laminotomy) and then removes the portion of herniated disc (discectomy). In certain cases, spinal fusion may be required.

Can a ruptured disc get better without surgery? ›

The good news is that the vast majority of herniated discs can be treated without surgery using manual therapy and exercise or with IDD Therapy disc treatment. It is only a small percentage of cases which go on to have surgery.

Is ruptured disc a disability? ›

A herniated disc injury may result in a designation of permanent disability and make you eligible for disability benefits from workers' compensation if: The herniation compromises a nerve root or the bundle of nerves that lead out from the spinal cord.

Can a herniated disc go back into place? ›

Treatment Options

Non-surgical treatments can include physical therapy or bracing to try and gradually ease the bulging disc back into its rightful place. When these conservative options fail, and there is still a lot of pain, a minimally invasive surgical procedure can be used to correct the bulging disc.

Can you rupture the same disc twice? ›

Can a herniated disc reoccur despite your most diligent efforts? Sadly, the answer is yes. Sometimes, there's nothing you can do to prevent another injury to a disc, especially when dealing with the vicissitudes of time and aging.

What is a ruptured disc called? ›

Ruptured disc is also known as herniated disc, slipped disc, bulging disc, or prolapsed disc. The spine is made up vertebrae, which are separated by soft spinal discs that cushion the vertebrae, permit flexibility and absorb shocks to the spine.

What is the most severe form of herniated disc? ›

Of the three types of herniated discs, sequestered herniation is often the most severe. It occurs when the nucleus erupts out of the outer layer of the disc. The ruptured disc material can migrate to different locations along the spinal canal and become trapped.

Can you get paralyzed from herniated disc? ›

With a herniated disc, the capsule cracks or breaks, and the nucleus squeezes out. This can irritate the spinal cord or nearby nerves, causing weakness and numbness in the arms or legs. A severely herniated disc can cause paralysis.

How can I make my herniated disc stop hurting? ›

Besides taking the pain medications your doctor recommends, try:
  1. Applying heat or cold. Initially, cold packs can be used to relieve pain and inflammation. ...
  2. Avoiding too much bed rest. Staying in bed can lead to stiff joints and weak muscles — which can complicate your recovery. ...
  3. Resuming activity slowly.
8 Feb 2022

How long is bed rest for herniated disc? ›

Rest. Most often 1-2 days of strict bed rest will calm severe back pain. Bed rest should not exceed 48 hours. Once you are back into your daily routine, you should take frequent rest breaks throughout the day- but avoid sitting for long periods of time.

How much disability is a herniated disc? ›

VA Disability Ratings for Herniated Discs

20% – Veterans who have had episodes that last for at least 2 weeks, but less than 4 weeks, in the past 12 months, may be able to qualify for this rating. 40% – Having episodes that last for at least 4 weeks but less than 6 weeks in the past 12 months.

What does a neurosurgeon do for herniated disc? ›

An incision is placed in the lower back over the area where the disc is herniated. Some bone from the back of the spine may be removed to gain access to the area where the disc is located. Typically, the herniated part of the disc and any extra loose pieces of disc are removed from the disc space.

How long do you stay in the hospital after herniated disc surgery? ›

“Most people can expect to leave the hospital that same day, or within 24 hours.” During the recovery period from surgery for a herniated disc, you'll likely be getting physical therapy, where specific exercises will help you to build strength and improve your flexibility.

Which is a serious complication of a ruptured disc? ›

The most serious complication from a herniated disc is the development of the cauda equina syndrome. This results when a very large fragment of disc material is ruptured into the spinal canal in the area where the nerves that control the bowels and bladder travel before they leave the spine.

What exercises can I do with a ruptured disc? ›

You don't need to endure an intense cardio program or lift heavy weights—simple stretching and aerobic exercises can effectively control your herniated disc pain. Stretching programs like yoga and Pilates improve strength and flexibility, and offer relief of acute pain in your leg and low back.

Can physical therapy help a ruptured disc? ›

The majority of herniated disks do not require surgery, and respond best to physical therapy. Physical therapists design personalized treatment programs to help people with herniated disks regain normal movement, reduce pain, and get back to their regular activities.

How long does ruptured disc surgery take? ›

It may take about 1 hour. Here is an example of what you might expect: You will receive a local anesthetic so that you won't feel any pain or discomfort during the procedure.

What is prescribed for herniated disc? ›

Your doctor might also prescribe muscle relaxants to ease muscle spasms in your back. And nerve pain medicines, such as amitriptyline (Elavil, Vanatrip), duloxetine (Cymbalta), gabapentin (Neurontin), pregabalin (Lyrica), and tramadol (Ultram) are options to ease nerve-damage pain.

Can a herniated disc affect your walking? ›

Summary of background data: Lumbar herniated discs often cause muscle weakness, reduced motor function, and change in walking capacity. The specific effects of a disc herniation on muscle function during gait is poorly documented.

What are the symptoms of L4 L5 nerve damage? ›

What Are The Symptoms of L4-L5 Damage?
  • Sharp pain that begins in the lower back and moves down the leg.
  • Weakness in the leg with motion.
  • Numbness in the leg, foot, and/or toes.
  • Tingling and/or pins-and-needles sensation along the sciatic nerve.
6 Oct 2022

What are the symptoms of L5 nerve damage? ›

A pinched L5 nerve root usually results in radiating pain in the foot. This pain can come in the form of numbness, tingling, weakness and shooting and is commonly felt in the big toe, inside of the foot, top of the foot and ankle. Radiculopathy of the L5 nerve may also cause loss of coordination in the foot and toes.

Where do most disc ruptures occur? ›

Although herniation can occur in any section of the spine, herniated discs in the lumbar (low back) and cervical (neck) spine are the most common.

What percentage of herniated discs require surgery? ›

According to research cited by Harvard Health, about 10 percent of patients with herniated disc issues require surgery after six weeks. Similar research suggests that 90 percent of the time, surgery is not necessary for a herniated disc.

What not to do if you have a herniated disc? ›

Everyday Activities to Avoid with Herniated Disc
  1. Sitting too much. Sitting puts more stress on your spinal discs, especially when slouching forward in a seat. ...
  2. Doing laundry. ...
  3. Vacuuming. ...
  4. Feeding a pet. ...
  5. Strenuous exercise. ...
  6. Shoveling snow or gardening. ...
  7. Learn more:

Is herniated disc permanent injury? ›

Herniated discs are a common permanent injury, typically caused by a car crash or a job accident. The individuals responsible, including the at-fault driver, could be held legally liable. Individuals injured on the job can seek workers' compensation benefits through their employer's insurance coverage.

Is a herniated disk permanent? ›

Once a healthy disc herniates, it will never return to its normal anatomical state—the disease or injury is permanent in nature.

What is it like living with a herniated disc? ›

Leg and/or arm pain--since most herniated discs develop in the lumbar (lower) area of your back, you will likely feel intense pain in your calves, thighs, and buttocks. People with a cervical (neck) herniated disk will suffer arm and shoulder pain.

Is heating pad good for herniated disc? ›

For mild herniated disc pain, relieve the inflammation to decrease pain. For instance, applying a heating pad or ice pack to the affected area may be a good way to temporarily relieve your pain and reduce inflammation. Take 10-15 minutes twice a day to lie on your stomach with one to two pillows under your hips.

Do muscle relaxers help herniated disc? ›

Muscle Relaxants

If a disc slips from its place between vertebrae and pinches a nerve, the electrical signals that move from the nerve to nearby muscle tissue may be disrupted, leading to painful muscle spasms. Muscle relaxant medications can calm spasms and ease pain, letting you move more easily.

Is heat good for herniated disc? ›

Heat Therapy

The application of heat can help ease muscle spasms resulting from a herniated disc. Since spasms in the large muscles of the lower back can be especially painful, heat therapy may be a smart option.

Does sitting worsen herniated disc? ›

Sitting for long periods is not advised if you suffer from a herniated disc. It places more stress on your spinal discs, worsening the pain. You can maintain comfort by regularly moving around or standing up from your seat.

Is it better to sit or lay down with a herniated disc? ›

The optimal sleeping position for a herniated disc is on your back. Lying on your back keeps your spine in a neutral position so you have less chance of pinching the nerve. For added comfort, nestle a small pillow or rolled-up towel under your knees and lower back.

Is it OK to sit with a herniated disc? ›

Sitting is not really the preferred position when you have a herniated lumbar disc. Most physical therapists will recommend standing up, moving around or lying down over sitting.

How do I know if my disk is ruptured? ›

A ruptured disc causes severe low back pain and, sometimes, shooting pain down the back of the legs, which is known as sciatica.
...
Symptoms
  1. sharp pain down the back of the buttocks and leg (usually one leg)
  2. tingling in part of the leg or in the foot.
  3. weakness in the leg.

When do you need surgery on a ruptured disc? ›

Your doctor might recommend surgery as an option for your herniated disc if: Your symptoms have lasted at least 6 weeks and make it hard to do your normal activities, and other treatments haven't helped. You need to get better quickly because of your job or to get back to your other activities as soon as possible.

Do you need surgery for a ruptured disk? ›

Often you can relieve a herniated disk with rest, pain relievers, and physical therapy. But if your symptoms don't get better after a few months, surgery may be an option. It can improve your pain faster than other treatments, but it can have side effects.

Are ruptured discs serious? ›

A herniated disc is a common spinal disorder, and it typically responds well to conservative treatment like gentle exercise or over-the-counter pain medication. But some ruptured disc symptoms warrant a trip to your doctor to prevent serious—and potentially permanent—nerve complications.

Can a ruptured disc paralyze you? ›

The most serious complication from a thoracic herniated disc is the development of complete paralysis below the waist. This results when a fragment of disc material is ruptured into the spinal canal. Pressure on the spinal cord causes permanent damage to the nerves traveling to the lower body and legs.

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