Do you have a herniated or bulging vertebral disc?

According to many studies, up to 85% of people in the United States will suffer from low back pain. Low back pain is second only to upper respiratory infections (the common cold) as a reason for missed work time!

The bones (vertebra) that form the spine (backbone) are cushioned by small, round, flat discs. When these discs are damaged from an injury, normal wear and tear, or disease, they may bulge abnormally or break open. A herniated disc occurs when small tears form in the wall of an injured disc.  The injury often compresses a nerve root, causing pain.

Herniated or bulging vertebral discs are common injuries of the neck and low back.  These injuries may be asymptomatic (no symptoms) and are more prevalent as we age. According to a study in 2008 from the Cleveland Clinic, 25% of all asymptomatic adults have at least 1 herniated vertebral disc and as many as 60% with no back pain have degenerative changes in their spines.

If you have back pain and any of the following signs, you should be seen by a spine doctor for an evaluation.

5 Common Signs You Have a Herniated Disc

  • Unexplained muscle weakness
  • Numbness or tingling, commonly on one side of the body
  • Pain shooting down arm or leg
  • Pain that increases with prolonged sitting or standing
  • Pain that worsens at night or with certain movements

Test and Diagnosis

Usually all that’s needed is a physical exam and medical history. X-Rays: Don’t detect this type of injury but can rule out tumor, broken bone, or alignment issues. Myelogram: Test can show pressure on spinal cord or nerves due to bulging discs. MRI: Test that uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of organs and structures inside the body. A herniation may be seem on MRI.

Treatment & Drugs

  • Most commonly just avoid painful positions, follow exercise plan, take OTC pain medication (Advil, Aleve)
  • Narcotics
  • Nerve pain medication
  • Muscle Relaxers
  • Spinal Injections: help alleviate pain in the back and neck


  • Very small percentage of patients need surgery
  • Remove protruding portion of the disc (rarely does full disc have to be removed)
  • Discectomy: removal of partial or full disc

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