Problem with a Disc Between the Spinal Bones

A herniated disc is a condition that affects the spine. Discs normally function as small cushions for the small bones, called vertebrae, in the spine. A herniation occurs when some of the soft center of the disc has pushed out through a tear in the covering of the disc. Other names for this condition are a slipped or ruptured disc.

Herniated discs can happen in any portion of the spine, but they are more common in the lower back and neck. They can cause problems when they irritate nerves.

Commonly, gradual wear and tear due to aging and use cause a herniated disc. In some cases, a specific incident, like a fall or other injury causes this condition.

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook

Some people do not have any symptoms. If they do occur, common symptoms of a herniated disc may include:

  • Pain, numbness or tingling radiating down the arm or leg.
  • Weakness of the muscles of the arm or leg
  • Problems walking or lifting objects

Your symptoms will depend on the location of the herniated disc and if it is compressing any nerves.

To diagnose a herniated disc, you will need to provide your medical history, as well as have a physical and neurological exam. Your doctor may also order X-rays and/or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans.

Your treatment may include:

  • Avoiding certain activities
  • Applying heat or cold packs
  • Over-the-counter pain medications (acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen)
  • Physical therapy
  • Oral steroids
  • Prescription medications (muscle relaxants, nerve pain modulating agents)
  • Epidural steroid injections
  • Surgery

Most patients a herniated disc with will have resolution of their symptoms without surgery. The nonsurgical treatments listed above, combined with time, result in improvement of their symptoms and a return to normal activities. If surgery is required, the results are generally favorable and recovery from that surgery ranges from 6 to 12 weeks.

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Why Choose Penn State Health for Care

Top-Ranked by U.S. News & World Report

Penn State Health includes the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, ranked as one of the best orthopedic providers in the country by U.S. News & World Report. This honor was earned because our doctors consistently deliver exceptional patient care and outcomes through their commitment to advanced treatments, translational research and provider training.

Coordinated, Specialized Care Through a Dedicated Institute

Our orthopaedic specialists work together through our dedicated Penn State Bone and Joint Institute. There, they focus on providing you with multidisciplinary, tailored care and state-of-the-art treatments and technologies. This produces the highest-quality patient outcomes. All physicians at the institute are fellowship-trained and subspecialize in additional niche areas of orthopaedics, including arthritis care and joint arthroplasty (joint replacement surgery).

Designated as a Blue Distinction® Center

Penn State Bone and Joint Institute is a Blue Distinction Center for Knee and Hip Replacement. This superior designation from BlueCross BlueShield is only given to health care facilities and providers that stand out for their expertise in delivering specialty knee and hip replacement care. Our surgeons specialize in a range of pain-relieving procedures, including partial knee replacement, total joint arthroplasty, joint preservation surgery and complex revision surgery. They perform more than 1,000 joint replacement procedures every year.

Confidence in Treatment Through Education

We developed a special joint replacement education website just for patients undergoing joint arthroplasty. The website takes you step by step through the joint replacement process. From things to consider before choosing surgery to recovery after surgery, you’ll find the information you need to help you feel confident in your decision to undergo joint replacement.

Advancing Orthopaedic Medicine Through Research

The doctors and researchers in our Center for Orthopaedic Research and Translational Science at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center are committed to advancing our field through scientific discovery and education. As the only academic medical center in central Pennsylvania, Hershey Medical Center is a national leader in research, in partnership with Penn State College of Medicine, and on the leading edge of new treatment options, including clinical trials.

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