What is a Herniated Disc?

For a better idea of what a disc actually is, picture a jelly donut. It has a very soft middle, or center, that is encased by a harder outside layer. If you have ever seen an image or an X-ray of a spinal column you probably noticed that it is comprised of numerous discs. If you look closely, you’ll see the discs are all connected and appear to be stacked on top of each other. 

So, normally the jelly-like substance on the inside acts like a cushion to provide protection. But a herniated disc is like the jelly that has escaped the center of your donut.

Most herniated discs occur in the lower back, although can also occur in your neck (cervical spine). For many people, there are no apparent symptoms associated with a herniated disc. But, as the disc begins to put pressure on a nerve, there can be any number of symptoms.

Symptoms of a Herniated Disc Include:

  1. Lower back pain
  2. Pain that shoots down the hip and leg; even to the ankle or foot (sciatica)
  3. Numbness or a tingling feeling in one leg
  4. Muscle spasms or deep muscular pains
  5. Weakness in one or both of the legs

If you have been experiencing discomfort for several weeks and suspect you are suffering from this condition, visit an Orlando Orthopedic Center spine surgeon for diagnosis and treatment options.

What Causes a Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc occurs when a spinal disc loses elasticity and ruptures, expanding beyond its intended boundary. A herniated disc is most often a result of a gradual age-related wear and tear commonly referred to as disc degeneration.

This means the disc(s) lose some water content (jelly) thus losing flexibility and are more likely to tear or rupture – even under minor pressure. Most of the time, people do not know exactly when the disc became damaged.

For some, herniated discs occur with improper lifting or twisting the back when lifting an object. Very rarely a herniated disc can be the result of a traumatic event like a fall.

Who is a Candidate for Herniated Disc Surgery?

Candidates for herniated disc typically have ongoing lower back pain, numbness or tingling in one leg and/or muscle spasms. Your surgeon may suggest surgery if conservative treatment methods – such as therapy, medications and rest – fail to improve symptoms after six weeks.

What Are Surgical Treatments to Repair Herniated Discs?

In most cases, surgical treatment to repair herniated discs involves removing the protruding the portion of the disc.

Sometimes, however, the entire disc must be removed and the vertebrae above and below the disc will need to be fused to provide spinal stability.

Some of the common procedures used to treat herniated discs include:

What Should Patients Expect After Treatment for a Herniated Disc?

Recovery time can vary from one patient to another and it depends largely on some specific factors including:

  • Location of the herniated disc
  • Severity of disc degeneration
  • Severity of nerve compression
  • Longevity of symptoms
  • Specific treatment plan

In mild cases where surgery is not required, symptoms can be alleviated within weeks with ice or heat, over-the-counter pain medications, flexibility exercises and proper lifting techniques. Some minor adjustments such as using good posture, using proper lifting techniques and ergonomic chairs can help reduce or eliminate the pain.

For moderate cases, recovery can take up to six weeks or longer. In these cases, the physician may prescribe rehabilitation, medicines to control pain, steroid injections and rest.

If surgery is required to treat the herniated disc, Orlando Orthopedic Center surgeons utilize minimally invasive procedures to help shorten recovery time whenever possible.