Herniated Disc

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Herniated Cervical Disc (Neck)

herniated disc

Being diagnosed with a herniated cervical disc usually means bad news for anyone, but don’t despair. No matter how dreadful this condition can be, there is hope for recovery. Doing the right things on time can help you avoid the worst.

A cervical herniating disc is a condition that affects one of the intervertebral discs in the neck area. It is one of the most common type of injuries in the spine, next to a lumbar herniation (meaning in the lower back).



This post will talk about the general symptoms, treatment options, and surgery procedures for a cervical disc herniation. For more detailed articles go to the herniated neck disc category or just choose one of the posts that interests you:

Symptoms of a Disc Injury in the Cervical Spine

The symptoms of a herniated neck disc might surprise the victims at first, as this kind of injury doesn’t just trigger pain in the neck area. Due to the proximity to the lumbar cord and various nerve roots, cervical intervertebral discs can easily cause pain in other body parts that are served by these nerves.

Whenever a herniated neck disc impinges or touches a nerve root, there is a good chance that the concerned person feels pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness in their shoulder area, their arm and even their fingers. In some cases even the face can be affected, including ears and eyes.



Treatment Possibilities

After the incident that triggered the disc herniation, the patient usually needs a few days of rest and some medical attention to calm the initial pain. After the first shock, there are various treatment options that can help, like for example physical therapy.

Other alternative treatment options that have shown to be effective include chiropractic care, massages, acupuncture. In order to achieve long term relief it is necessary to find the optimal combination of such therapies and exercises. That way you can treat the original problem that is very often associated with too weak or just unbalanced muscles as well as wrong postures.

Cervical Intervertebral Disc Surgery

When everything is too late and there is no chance left to treat the condition with conventional treatments, a lot of patients consider surgery. The most common type of surgery performed for prolapsed discs at this level is the so called anterior cervical discectomy and fusion.




This operation helps decompress the spine by taking away the pressure from the spinal cord and the nerve roots that have been affected by the disc.

It involves removing the concerned disc through a small incision in the front part of the neck and the subsequent fusion of the two vertebrae, for which there are different ways and materials.

The video on the left is an animation of such anterior cervical discectomy followed by a fusion using a plate and screws.

Unfortunately this methods has its downsides, like most kinds of surgery. One of the biggest concerns of the patients is that the fusion takes away some of the natural mobility and flexibility of the neck.

Make sure you have considered all risks and have taken a few months to try out all other treatment possibilities, before deciding to get a surgery for a herniated cervical disc.


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Herniated Lumbar Disc (Lower Back)

herniated disc

A herniated lumbar (or lower back) disc is easily one of the most frequent spine injuries, as this region of the spine has to put up with a lot of load and strain during our every day life.

Depending on its severity, the exact location as well as other factors, this condition can end up being very painful. Fortunately, in many cases a herniated lower back disc can be fixed, if the right treatment is followed.

This article gives a general overview over the symptoms and treatment options for a disc herniation in the lumbar spine. For more detailed information go to our lumbar herniation category, or just choose the topic of your interest from this list:



Herniated Lower Back Disc Symptoms

Besides the obvious pain in the lower back, patients who suffer from a bulging disc in the lower back very often experience the so-called sciatic pain. This is due to the fact that the slipped disc in many cases touches spinal nerve roots which are located next to the vertebrae.

The most typical signs of sciatica are radiating pain, numbness and tingling in buttocks, legs, and feet. The patient may also experience weakness in some of these parts of the body.

Depending on the exact level and type of the herniation, the symptoms can slightly vary, as each of our body parts is served by a different spinal nerve or nerve root. As an example: if the patient feels weakness in their big toe, this might well be a sign of an l5-s1 disc problem.

However, this doesn’t always have to be the case. Each person is wired differently, so the symptoms of a herniated lower back disc may also depend in big part on the anatomy of the patient. Go see a doctor if you have a reason to believe you may suffer from a bulging or herniating disc.



How About Surgery?

When every possible treatment method has failed to bring any lasting results, a surgery for herniated back discs will be the next step to consider. There are several surgical procedures that can help relieve the pressure from the injured spinal nerve.

The video on the left describes one of the typical procedures for a lumbar herniation, the laminectomy.

During a lumbar laminectomy, an incision is made along the area of the affected disc and backbones to remove parts of the lamina and the affected disc.

This way, the pinched nerve and the spinal cord can be set free of all the pressure that created the sciatic pain.

The procedure during which only the disc or a part of it is removed (not involving the lamniae) is called discectomy. Read more about experiences with this type of back surgery in our separate post FAQ Microdiscectomy Spine Surgery.




Lumbar Spine Disc Treatment

Physical therapy is one of the most commonly used treatments for a lumbar prolapsed disc. It is a useful way to decompress and relax the spine, reduce inflammation and strengthen muscles with help of specific exercises for herniated discs, cold and heat, massaging and other effective therapy methods.

Other options include alternative treatment methods such as acupuncture, chiropractic, or even yoga. There are uncountable ways to achieve some at least temporary pain relief.

However, many treatments will only take care of the symptoms and not the real problem, if not used in an effective way. Make sure you get all the information you can on your condition by eucating yourself and by talking to different specialists. Experiment with different treatment approaches and find out what helps you most.


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Herniated Thoracic Disc (Middle Back)

herniated disc

A herniated thoracic disc is a back condition that occurs in the middle or upper back. It is by far not as frequent as a neck, or a lower back disc herniation, but can become equally painful in some cases.

The most common level for a herniated, or slipped disc in the thoracic spine is towards the lower back, between the t8, t9, t10, t11 and t12 vertebrae.

This post talks about the main symptoms and the best treatment methods for the condition.



Symptoms of a Herniating Disc in the Thoracic Spine

Many times, bulging or herniating discs in this region remain undiscovered, as there are no symptoms at all. If present, the most frequent thoracic bulging disc symptom is pain in the upper and middle back region. However, if a spinal nerve is affected by the disc herniation, there may be other forms of pain involved.

If the bulge irritates a nerve root, the patient may feel radiating pain in the chest area as well as the abdomen. A herniation on a higher thoracic level can also affect the arms. Numbness and tingling sensations in the regions served by the affected nerve can be typical symptoms, as well as weakness of some of these body parts.

In some rare cases, the spinal cord itself gets impinged by the herniating disc, which can result in a so-called myelopathy. This is a serious injury of the spinal canal that can lead to more severe problems like partial paralysis. Immediate medical attention and often surgery will be necessary in this exceptional case.



Treatment Options

Initially, the treatment for a prolapsed thoracic disc should consist of enough rest and relaxation of the spine. Anti-inflammatory medication or an epidural can help decompress the spine and thus relieve some of the pain.

Physical therapy is a very often prescribed treatment method to decompress, strengthen and relax the spine. Many times, patients also turn to alternative therapies such as acupuncture or chiropractic.

Maybe the most important part in the process of treating such a condition is strengthening the back and correct wrong postures and misalignments in order to get long term relief. This can be most efficiently done with a combination of back pain exercises and other therapy methods that are specifically designed to treat the patient’s unique condition.

Thoracic Spine Surgery as a Last Resort

If every other treatment method fails, or if the spinal cord is affected, the next thing to consider is a surgery for herniated back discs.



One of the most used procedure in this case is a posterior or posterolateral laminectomy or discectomy,  where parts of the bone or the disc itself are removed through a small incision in the back to take the pressure off the compressed nerve.

Another approach that is technically more complicated and risky, but more effective than a posterior approach, is the trans-thoracic surgery. In this case, one or several incisions are made through the chest to reach the location of the disc.

As there can be complications and unwanted side effects from a surgery, it should really be seen as a last alternative. If possible, take some time and effort to focus on the real cause of your herniation instead on the symptoms. Constantly educate yourself with the help of spine experts and your own research to better understand your unique condition. This will help you figure out which treatments are best for you.


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