Disc Herniation & Disc Disease

Relief from chronic and debilitating neck or back pain

Your vertebrae are the 33 bones that make up your spine. Soft, well-padded, and hydrated discs sit between each vertebra and act like cushions. Disc herniation and disc disease happen when these discs become injured or damaged.

As you age, the discs between your vertebrae dry out and begin to weaken, becoming more susceptible to injury. Discs can move out of place, bulge, rupture and leak fluid or even break apart, causing you pain and complications.

There are two types of common disc disorders:

Disc Herniation

Herniation is when a disc changes shape or pushes into the spinal canal, causing lower back pain and spinal stenosis (narrowing). A herniated disc can put pressure on or pinch nearby nerves and is most common in the cervical spine (neck) and lumbar (lower) spine.

The most common cause of disc herniation is normal wear and tear. Daily activities over time wear out the shock-absorbing discs. Other causes of disc herniation include:

  • Injury, such as trauma from a car accident
  • Repetitive movements
  • Being overweight
  • Improper lifting

Symptoms of Disc Herniation

When a disc herniates you may experience:

  • Neck pain
  • Low back pain
  • Weakness in your arms and legs
  • Radiating pain in your arms and legs
  • Numbness in your arms and legs
  • Muscle tightness and spasms in your neck or back

Disc Disease

Disc disease is a degenerative condition, meaning it happens gradually over time and is a normal part of the aging process. As you grow older, the discs in your spine can become brittle and weak.

Symptoms of Disc Disease

Some people with degenerative disc disease do not experience back pain. When disc disease does become noticeable, it often involves the cervical or lumbar spine. Symptoms are similar to those of disc herniation, however everyone experiences disc disease to varying degrees at different ages. For example, you may feel less pain when being active or you may feel less pain when you lie down.

Overview

As you age, the discs between your vertebrae dry out and begin to weaken, becoming more susceptible to injury. Discs can move out of place, bulge, rupture and leak fluid or even break apart, causing you pain and complications.

There are two types of common disc disorders:

Disc Herniation

Herniation is when a disc changes shape or pushes into the spinal canal, causing lower back pain and spinal stenosis (narrowing). A herniated disc can put pressure on or pinch nearby nerves and is most common in the cervical spine (neck) and lumbar (lower) spine.

The most common cause of disc herniation is normal wear and tear. Daily activities over time wear out the shock-absorbing discs. Other causes of disc herniation include:

  • Injury, such as trauma from a car accident
  • Repetitive movements
  • Being overweight
  • Improper lifting

Symptoms of Disc Herniation

When a disc herniates you may experience:

  • Neck pain
  • Low back pain
  • Weakness in your arms and legs
  • Radiating pain in your arms and legs
  • Numbness in your arms and legs
  • Muscle tightness and spasms in your neck or back

Disc Disease

Disc disease is a degenerative condition, meaning it happens gradually over time and is a normal part of the aging process. As you grow older, the discs in your spine can become brittle and weak.

Symptoms of Disc Disease

Some people with degenerative disc disease do not experience back pain. When disc disease does become noticeable, it often involves the cervical or lumbar spine. Symptoms are similar to those of disc herniation, however everyone experiences disc disease to varying degrees at different ages. For example, you may feel less pain when being active or you may feel less pain when you lie down.

How We Can Help

IU Health Neurology physicians can use a variety of imaging tests to diagnose herniated discs and disc disease. If you are in pain, we can repair your discs to reduce the impact on your spinal nerves so you can be pain free and return to work and other activities.

Treatment for disc herniation and disc disease is designed to reduce the pain and pressure on your spine. Therapies can range from simple to complex and include:

Lifestyle Changes

The simplest way to prevent and heal disc herniation and disc disease is to live a healthy lifestyle. If you are overweight, the extra weight puts a strain on your spine. If you smoke, your body’s cells—especially those that make up the spinal discs—are deprived of the oxygen they need to properly function. Some lifestyle changes you can make include:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Stop smoking

Medications

We use a variety of medicines to reduce the inflammation and pain from disc disease. Narcotics can be used for short periods and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medicines can help reduce the inflammation that causes pain.

Nerve Block

This treatment combines an injection of anesthesia and a pain reducer to block the function of specific nerves as a way to stop pain. The treatment can be targeted to specific nerves or it can be delivered in a midline approach to affect a broader area.

Physical Therapy

Exercises to strengthen the muscles in your back, legs and arms can improve your movements and reduce pain. Your physician may recommend physical therapy and care from a chiropractor.

Surgery

If your condition requires surgery, we can use image-guided surgery, including intraoperative magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to generate the safest outcomes with the fewest complications. To treat disc herniation and disc disease, our neurosurgeons remove disc fragments in the spinal canal, smooth out any rough disc edges and replace discs as needed.

Types of surgical interventions include:

  • Laminectomy — A surgical procedure used to relieve pressure on your spinal cord by removing bone or bone fragments from the spine.
  • Artificial discs — Artificial discs cushion the space between the vertebrae in your spine and prevent fusion of the bones to keep you active longer and help prevent a second surgery.
  • Spinal fusion — To reduce the pinching of the nerves, your neurosurgeon may realign the vertebrae. This procedure includes the use of screw, rods, and cages as implants that create the height a disc would normally provide. For some patients, spinal fusion can be performed using minimally invasive surgical techniques.
  • Percutaneous pedicle screw placement — We use computer-guided images and minimally invasive surgery to place screws in the spine to add strength and stability.

Treatment

How We Can Help

IU Health Neurology physicians can use a variety of imaging tests to diagnose herniated discs and disc disease. If you are in pain, we can repair your discs to reduce the impact on your spinal nerves so you can be pain free and return to work and other activities.

Treatment for disc herniation and disc disease is designed to reduce the pain and pressure on your spine. Therapies can range from simple to complex and include:

Lifestyle Changes

The simplest way to prevent and heal disc herniation and disc disease is to live a healthy lifestyle. If you are overweight, the extra weight puts a strain on your spine. If you smoke, your body’s cells—especially those that make up the spinal discs—are deprived of the oxygen they need to properly function. Some lifestyle changes you can make include:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Stop smoking

Medications

We use a variety of medicines to reduce the inflammation and pain from disc disease. Narcotics can be used for short periods and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medicines can help reduce the inflammation that causes pain.

Nerve Block

This treatment combines an injection of anesthesia and a pain reducer to block the function of specific nerves as a way to stop pain. The treatment can be targeted to specific nerves or it can be delivered in a midline approach to affect a broader area.

Physical Therapy

Exercises to strengthen the muscles in your back, legs and arms can improve your movements and reduce pain. Your physician may recommend physical therapy and care from a chiropractor.

Surgery

If your condition requires surgery, we can use image-guided surgery, including intraoperative magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to generate the safest outcomes with the fewest complications. To treat disc herniation and disc disease, our neurosurgeons remove disc fragments in the spinal canal, smooth out any rough disc edges and replace discs as needed.

Types of surgical interventions include:

  • Laminectomy — A surgical procedure used to relieve pressure on your spinal cord by removing bone or bone fragments from the spine.
  • Artificial discs — Artificial discs cushion the space between the vertebrae in your spine and prevent fusion of the bones to keep you active longer and help prevent a second surgery.
  • Spinal fusion — To reduce the pinching of the nerves, your neurosurgeon may realign the vertebrae. This procedure includes the use of screw, rods, and cages as implants that create the height a disc would normally provide. For some patients, spinal fusion can be performed using minimally invasive surgical techniques.
  • Percutaneous pedicle screw placement — We use computer-guided images and minimally invasive surgery to place screws in the spine to add strength and stability.

At IU Health, we continue to test and innovate new surgical devices and techniques to deliver the best possible outcomes for our patients. Through our affiliation with the Indiana University School of Medicine Department of Neurology, we continue to study and compare the benefits of minimally invasive and open spine surgery.

Our participation in the National Neurosurgery Quality and Outcomes Database (N2QOD) gives our neurosurgeons access to comprehensive information about spine surgery outcomes. We use this data to determine the best care plan and deliver the highest quality standards for treating disc herniation.

Research

At IU Health, we continue to test and innovate new surgical devices and techniques to deliver the best possible outcomes for our patients. Through our affiliation with the Indiana University School of Medicine Department of Neurology, we continue to study and compare the benefits of minimally invasive and open spine surgery.

Our participation in the National Neurosurgery Quality and Outcomes Database (N2QOD) gives our neurosurgeons access to comprehensive information about spine surgery outcomes. We use this data to determine the best care plan and deliver the highest quality standards for treating disc herniation.

Patient Stories for Disc Herniation & Disc Disease

Medline Plus

The National Institutes of Health’s website for patients and families provides extensive information about herniated discs and disc disease.

North American Spine Society

This association website provides patient information on the causes, symptoms and treatments for different types of disc disease.

Resources

Medline Plus

The National Institutes of Health’s website for patients and families provides extensive information about herniated discs and disc disease.

North American Spine Society

This association website provides patient information on the causes, symptoms and treatments for different types of disc disease.