Disc Herniation | Symptoms, Causes, Prevention & Treatments (2023)

Finding Relief for Disc Herniation

A disc is a part of your spine found between your vertebrae. These discs absorb impact to help prevent injury and enable a full range of motion. Their tough, rubbery exterior and soft, jelly-like interior are a gentle landing mat for your spinal bones. They help protect your spine from being seriously damaged in situations like a fall, car accident, or even just normal wear and tear.

A herniated disc occurs when a crack forms in the disc’s hard exterior, allowing part of the soft inner nucleus to leak out. Many people with a herniated disc have no symptoms and aren’t even aware of their condition, but sometimes the herniated disc irritates a nearby nerve, resulting in pain and even numbness or tingling.

(Video) Herniated Disc Clearly Explained & Easily Fixed

Learn More About Disc Herniation

A “bulging disc” refers to a similar (but less advanced) version of a herniated disc. A bulging disc means that a disc’s outer layer of tough cartilage has been damaged — but not enough to allow the soft inner cartilage to seep out. A herniated disc, on the other hand, affects both the outer and inner portion of the disc and is much more likely to cause pain.

You may have also heard the terms “ruptured” or “slipped disc.” These terms are often used interchangeably with the term “herniated disc,” however, they actually describe different things. Though small parts of a disc may rupture or slip, an entire disc cannot since it is fused to the vertebrae.

The most common symptom of a herniated disc is lower back pain or neck pain, but the intensity can vary greatly depending on the position of the herniated disc and the extent of the damage. Most patients with a herniated disc experience an intense episode of back pain or endure longer, more intermittent episodes of pain.

Additional symptoms may vary depending on which part of your body is affected.

  • If your lower back is affected, you may experience pain, burning, tingling, or numbness that radiates from the buttock into the leg, and sometimes the foot. Patients describe this pain as sharp, like an electric shock. Standing, walking or sitting may aggravate it.
  • If your neck is affected, you may notice a dull or sharp pain in your neck or between your shoulder blades. You may also experience pain that radiates down the arm to the hand or fingers, as well as numbness or tingling in the shoulder or arm. Certain positions or neck movements may exacerbate it.

Some patients with a herniated disc may have no symptoms at all. These patients may never know they have the condition or it may appear on a routine scan during a doctor’s visit.

(Video) How to Heal Your Disc Herniation Without Surgery

Wear and Tear Due to Aging

Normal aging is the number one cause of disc herniation. As we age, our disc material wears down, and the ligaments that hold it in place weaken. From a relatively young age, we gradually begin to lose the spongy disc material that helps our spine absorb shock. This natural wear and tear means that even a minor strain or twist can cause a disc to herniate.

Injury or Trauma

Most people aren’t able to pinpoint the exact cause of their herniated disc. Rarely, though, a traumatic event such as a fall, car accident, or blow to the back can cause a herniated disc. In these cases, the herniated disc will likely be diagnosed in early treatment for the trauma.

Though disc herniation is relatively common —about 2% of the population experiences it each year. A variety of factors may make a person more likely to experience it in their lifetime.

  • Age: Due to the natural breakdown of disc material, a person is more likely to experience herniation the older they get. The most common time to have a herniated disc is between 30 and 50 years of age.
  • Gender: Women are twice as likely as men to experience disc herniation.
  • Weight: Excess body weight causes additional strain on your body and can cause disc damage.
  • Occupation: Those with physically demanding jobs have a higher risk of back problems. Any job that involves lifting, pushing, pulling, bending, or twisting can cause a herniated disc.
(Video) THE #1 Neurosurgeon Recommended Treatment For A Herniated Disc

If you’ve experienced disc herniation and want to avoid the pain and discomfort in the future —or if you want to get ahead of a possible herniated disc —there are several preventive measures you can take.

  • Exercise: A body in motion is stronger and more resistant to injury. Focus on movement that strengthens the core and trunk muscles, and avoid putting unnecessary pressure on your joints.
  • Practice good posture: We’re all guilty of slouching or bending over a computer or phone. Whether you’re sitting or standing, try to keep your back straight and aligned — especially when you’re staying in one place for an extended period of time.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Reducing the amount of weight your body has to support can keep it strong and healthy for longer. Even losing a small amount of weight can have a positive effect for your spinal health.

Quit smoking: Smoking can have adverse effects on far more than just your lungs. Giving up tobacco will increase the amount of oxygen being pumped to various parts of your body, including your spine.

Millions of people suffer from lower back pain, with a wide variety of causes. Conditions that may mimic the symptoms of disc herniation include arthritis, osteoporosis, cervicalgia, compression fracture, degenerative disc disease, muscle strain, and more.

Because many of these conditions involve overlapping symptoms, it’s best to consult a spinal health specialist to help you find the right diagnosis and treatment plan.

(Video) The Best Natural Treatment and Exercises for Thoracic Disc Herniation - Dr Mandell

If pain is seriously affecting your life, you should never try to suffer through it. Seek medical care if:

  • Your pain travels down your arm or leg
  • You experience numbness, tingling, or weakness
  • Your pain prevents you from completing basic daily tasks
  • Your pain is the result of a traumatic injury, such as a fall or accident
  • Your pain persists for longer than 6 weeks
  • Your pain is unresponsive to home treatments

A doctor with experience in spinal health can help diagnose your condition and explore a variety of treatment options —both surgical and non-surgical.

As with any type of back pain, the first step to finding herniated disc relief is to take it easy. Start with easy home remedies like over-the-counter medication, gentle movement, and alternating hot and cold packs. Bed rest is not recommended, as inactivity can actually make back pain worse.

Non-Surgical Treatments

A painful herniated disc is often treated with an epidural steroid injection, a minimally invasive procedure that can provide relief for mild neck and back pain. A doctor will administer the injection under live X-ray in order to deliver the medication to a highly specific area. This can help reduce inflammation and improve pain and discomfort, providing relief for up to a year.

Your doctor may also recommend physical therapy, which may include stretching, muscle stimulation, gentle massage, ultrasound, and other methods. To achieve the best results, pair physical therapy with additional home remedies and lifestyle changes.

Surgical Treatments

Some herniated discs require surgery. Your doctor will likely try to exhaust all other treatment options before considering a surgical option. You may be a candidate for surgery if you continue to have severe pain, numbness or weakness, and reduced movement after six weeks of treatment.

(Video) Slipped Disc: Causes & treatment | Dr. Anurag Saxena

Herniated disc surgery involves removing the protruding portion of the disc. In the unlikely event that the entire disc needs to be removed, a spinal specialist can replace it with an artificial disc to relieve pain and preserve the motion of your cervical spine.


How can you prevent a herniated disc? ›

How can I avoid getting a herniated disk?
  1. Using proper lifting techniques. Don't bend at the waist. ...
  2. Maintaining a healthy weight. Excess weight puts pressure on the lower back.
  3. Practicing good posture. ...
  4. Stretching. ...
  5. Avoiding wearing high-heeled shoes. ...
  6. Exercising regularly. ...
  7. Stopping smoking.
Jul 1, 2021

What causes disc herniation? ›

Disk herniation is most often the result of a gradual, aging-related wear and tear called disk degeneration. As people age, the disks become less flexible and more prone to tearing or rupturing with even a minor strain or twist.

What are common treatments for disc herniation? ›

A herniated disc is frequently treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, if the pain is only mild to moderate. An epidural steroid injection may be performed utilizing a spinal needle under X-ray guidance to direct the medication to the exact level of the disc herniation.

What is the most effective treatment for herniated disc? ›

Steroids work to reduce inflammation in the area near the herniated disc, taking pressure off an affected nerve and relieving pain. Available only by prescription, steroids are typically taken for 7 to 10 days, at which time your doctor reassesses your symptoms before recommending additional treatment.

Can exercise prevent herniated disc? ›

Regular exercise can minimize the risk of developing a herniated disc, but once a herniated disc develops, there are exercises to avoid doing. The exercises to avoid are those that force the neck to bend or cause other spine misalignment and those that put excess pressure or force on the spine.

Can stress trigger a herniated disc? ›

Damage or stress can cause part of the annulus fibrosus to weaken. This leads it to balloon outward from the spinal column. If the weakened cartilage ruptures, the nucleus pulposus can make its way out of the disc and onto nearby spinal nerve tissue.

Can a chiropractor fix a herniated disc? ›

According to Spine Universe, chiropractic care is a non-surgical option for herniated disc treatment. This makes choosing a chiropractor to address problems with a herniated disc a viable option if you want to avoid undergoing any surgical procedures.

Can a chiropractor fix a bulging disc? ›

Chiropractic is a preferred treatment option for many people with bulging and herniated discs because it is a non-invasive process and does not require drugs or injections. Once you have reached your diagnosis, you and your chiropractor can work hand in hand to look for the best way to treat your condition.

What are 4 possible causes of bulging or herniated disc? ›

Although bulging discs occur over time, herniated discs may occur quickly by trauma. Bad posture including improper body positioning during sleep, sitting, standing or exercise are all risk factors which may contribute to the development of a bulging disc. High contact sports or activities are also risk factors.

Is walking good for herniated disc? ›

Daily walks are an excellent way to exercise with a herniated disc, without putting additional strain on your spine and causing painful symptoms to flare up.

Can you fully heal a herniated disc? ›

Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer as to whether your disc herniation will fully heal. With treatment, a disc herniation can dry up, shrink or go away. Your body may have an autoimmune response and aid in healing the herniation.

What exercises should be avoided with bulging discs? ›

Unsafe Exercises for Individuals with a Bulging Disc
  • High impact aerobics.
  • Flexion-based movements.
  • Leg lifts.
  • Situps.
  • Twisting movements.
  • High-level core strength exercises.
  • Overhead weightlifting.
  • Repetitive forward bending at the waist.

What worsens a herniated disc? ›

The pain from a herniated disc usually is worse when you are active and gets better when you are resting. Coughing, sneezing, sitting, driving, and bending forward may make the pain worse. The pain gets worse when you make these movements because there is more pressure on the nerve.

Can you fix a herniated disc without surgery? ›

The good news is that the vast majority of herniated discs can be treated without surgery using manual therapy and exercise or with IDD Therapy disc treatment. It is only a small percentage of cases which go on to have surgery.

What is the first line treatment for herniated disc? ›

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are first-line agents in treating the pain associated with lumbar disc herniation because an inflammatory reaction at the site of the disc herniation may be contributing to pain.

What activities make a herniated disc worse? ›

Strenuous exercise

Skip movements that involve significant axial loading on the lower back, such as squats and leg presses. Avoid toe-touches, sit-ups, and yoga poses that worsen the pain and lead to significant bending of the back.

Is it better to rest or exercise a herniated disc? ›

Exercises and physiotherapy are often important parts of recovery from a herniated disk. A doctor will usually recommend a few days of rest after experiencing a herniated disk. Doing gentle activities and exercises will strengthen the muscles that support the spine and reduce pressure on the spinal column.

Should I avoid sitting with herniated disc? ›

Avoid Sitting Too Much

Sitting for long periods is not advised if you suffer from a herniated disc. It places more stress on your spinal discs, worsening the pain. You can maintain comfort by regularly moving around or standing up from your seat.

Is a pinched nerve always from a herniated disc? ›

Although a pinched nerve is often the result of a herniated disc, it may also be caused by one of the following: A sports or other injury. Poor posture. Arthritis.

Does a herniated disc happen suddenly? ›

A herniation may develop suddenly, or gradually over weeks or months.

What eventually happens to a herniated disc? ›

The good news is that in most cases — 90% of the time — pain caused by a herniated disc will go away on its own within six months. Initially, your doctor will likely recommend that you take an over-the-counter pain reliever and limit activities that cause pain or discomfort.

Can you massage a bulging disc back into place? ›

Massaging these muscles can restore proper balance and symmetry to the posture, which can allow the bulging disc to migrate back to its normal position in the spinal column. The pressure against the spinal nerves often subsides, and very likely, the pain associated with it to goes away.

How long does it take for a herniated disc to heal? ›

Nonsurgical treatments. Self care: In most cases, the pain from a herniated disc will get better within a couple days and completely resolve in 4 to 6 weeks. Restricting your activity, ice/heat therapy, and taking over the counter medications will help your recovery.

How long does it take for a chiropractor to fix a herniated disc? ›

In general, it will take two to four weeks of chiropractic treatments to experience consistent pain relief and lower your reliance on pain medications. Healing takes place during the next two months to two years of treatments, depending on the severity of the condition.

Is physical therapy or chiropractor better for herniated disc? ›

Once determined, vertebral and pelvic malalignment caused by the protruding disc must be treated so that the exercises to reposition the disc can be maximally effective. This is most effectively done with a chiropractic adjustment.

Does acupuncture help with herniated disc? ›

The researchers conclude that warm needle acupuncture is a highly effective tool in the treatment of lumbar disc herniations. Nantong Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine researchers conclude that acupuncture is effective in treating post-operative pain following surgery for lumbar disc herniations.

Is L4-L5 disc bulge serious? ›

A L4–L5 disc bulge (or slip-disc) in the L4-L5 region can cause severe health issues such as impotence and reproduction issues. It can also lead to infertility, loss or control of the bowel or bladder, paralysis in one or both of your legs, and even death.

What's the difference between disc bulge and herniation? ›

Bulging and Herniated Discs Explained

"A bulging disc is like letting air out of a car tire. The disc sags and looks like it is bulging outward. With a herniated disc, the outer covering of the disc has a hole or tear. This causes the nucleus pulposus (jelly-like center of the disc) to leak into the spinal canal."

Is L4-L5 disc bulge curable? ›

Regardless of the cause, an L4-L5 spinal segment is treatable without surgery or injection. The key to recovery is accurate diagnosis followed by corrective treatments that focus on the problem's root cause.

Does cortisone shot help herniated disc? ›

Corticosteroid injections can reduce inflammation and can be effective when delivered directly into the painful area. Unfortunately, the injection does not make a herniated disc smaller; it only works on the spinal nerves by flushing away the proteins that cause swelling.

What are the four stages of disc herniation? ›

There are four stages of a herniated disc depending on the extent of displacement of the nucleus towards the outside annulus.
  • Stage 1: Disc Compression. ...
  • Stage 2: Bulging Disc. ...
  • Stage 3: Disc Protrusion. ...
  • Stage 4: Herniated Disc.

How long is too long for a herniated disc? ›

The average amount of time it takes for a herniated disk to heal is four to six weeks, but it can get better within a few days depending on how severe the herniation was and where it occurred. The biggest factor in healing a herniated disk is time, because most often it will resolve on its own.

What percentage of herniated discs require surgery? ›

Herniated spinal discs are fairly common. Fortunately, surgery is not typically required for a herniated disc. In fact, only about 10 percent of herniated disc patients end up needing surgery, according to research cited by Harvard Health.

What foods to avoid with a bulging disc? ›

There are many foods that you will need to avoid.
  • Sugary Foods. Sugary foods are among the worst foods that you can eat. ...
  • Vegetable Oil. Most vegetables are high in omega 6 fatty acids. ...
  • Refined Grains. It is best to eat whole grains instead of refined grains. ...
  • Dairy Products. ...
  • Processed Corn. ...
  • Red Meat. ...
  • Foods With Chemicals.

Can I still lift weights with a herniated disc? ›

Is it safe to lift weights with a herniated disc? The short answer is yes. Exercise is not only recommended – it's required to help retrain the muscles in your back. After local back pain is controlled and minimized, you should focus on reloading your spine with light activity in order to relearn how to move properly.

Is it OK to stretch with a bulging disc? ›

A herniated or bulging disc can lead to muscle spasms in your back. Thus, it's recommended that you stretch your muscles as often as possible to ease the pain and prevent muscle spasms from becoming chronic.

Can stretching make herniated disc worse? ›

Stretching should be done carefully. It's important also to do the right types of stretches since some types actually make your disc herniation worse. Before beginning any exercise routine, it's always a good idea to consult with your pain management physician.

Can bed make herniated disc worse? ›

First, when you lie down, the pressure on your discs increases. It can cause the herniated disc to bulge more and pressure your nerves. Second, lying down flat on your back may not be the best position for a herniated disc.

Can you live normal life with herniated disc? ›

Living with a herniated disc

Your chances of getting better are good. Most people who have a herniated disc are better in about 4 weeks. Sometimes it takes longer. If you still have pain or numbness after 4 to 6 weeks, or if you feel worse, talk with your doctor.

What supplements are good for herniated disc repair? ›

The best supplements for healing a herniated disc include a collagen protein or a protein powder made from bone broth. Those contain the amino acids glutamine, glycine, proline, as well as arginine. These are the amino acids that your body needs for collagen production and help heal damaged tissues.

What can I do at home to heal a herniated disc? ›

Start with ice to relieve inflammation. Apply an ice pack to your lower back for the first couple of days after the pain starts. On day three or four, switch to heat. Use a heating pad or an over-the-counter heat patch to help relax the muscles.

How do you sleep with a herniated disc? ›

The optimal sleeping position for a herniated disc is on your back. Lying on your back keeps your spine in a neutral position so you have less chance of pinching the nerve. For added comfort, nestle a small pillow or rolled-up towel under your knees and lower back.

What not to do with herniated disc? ›

Activities to Avoid With a Herniated Disc
  • Sitting too Much. Sitting for too long is never good for you, but people with herniated discs need to be especially careful because slouching in your chair puts more stress on your spine. ...
  • Too Much Bed Rest. ...
  • Vacuuming. ...
  • Bending Over.

Will muscle relaxer help herniated disc? ›

Muscle Relaxants

If a disc slips from its place between vertebrae and pinches a nerve, the electrical signals that move from the nerve to nearby muscle tissue may be disrupted, leading to painful muscle spasms. Muscle relaxant medications can calm spasms and ease pain, letting you move more easily.

Who is prone to herniated disc? ›

Everyone experiences disc degeneration as they get older, and having a family history of the condition may mean more severe symptoms. Men are also more likely to suffer herniated discs than women. In fact, men between the ages of 20 and 50 are at the greatest risk of developing a herniated disc.

What aggravates herniated disc? ›

A herniated lumbar disc may be aggravated by specific activities such as bending forward, lifting heavy objects, pushing or pulling things, and coughing or sneezing.

Is there a natural way to heal a herniated disc? ›

Exercise-Yoga, Pilates. Physical therapy-specialized exercises to strengthen back muscles. Heat-to reduce muscle spasms and increase blood flow. Cold-to reduce inflammation and the sensation of pain.

What jobs to avoid with herniated disc? ›

With herniated discs, you would not be able to perform a variety of job tasks. You can't work in construction, manufacturing, or warehouse jobs because they require regular reaching, lifting, and carrying. Your limited mobility and pain would make those activities impossible.

Does sitting worsen herniated disc? ›

A herniated disc can worsen from poor sitting habits, such as slouching or sitting uninterrupted for hours. It is vital to adopt different strategies to manage a herniated disc and improve daily life. Sitting creates the highest compressive force, making it critical to use the proper posture to alleviate pain.

Can chiropractor make herniated disc worse? ›

Herniated discs are excruciatingly painful and any little movement could further aggravate them. While some may think that chiropractic care will cause more damage to the spine and further aggravate a herniated disc, nothing could be further from the truth.

What foods are good for herniated discs? ›

Omega 3 fatty acids help the body prevent damage to cartilage and discs that are triggered by inflammation. These fatty acids can also help repair damage that has already occurred. Foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids include canola oil, chia seeds, flax seeds, salmon, and walnuts.

How permanent is a herniated disc? ›

Most of the time, pain associated with a herniated disc goes away on its own over a period of weeks or months and does not cause permanent damage to the spine or nerves. A herniated disc can occur in any part of the spine, but it is most common in the lower back (the lumbar spine) and the neck (the cervical spine).

How I healed my herniated disc without surgery? ›

Non-surgical Treatments for Herniated Discs

Other non-surgical treatments for a herniated disc include: Cortisone injections are injected into the area around the spinal nerves. Muscle relaxers to relieve spasms. Physical therapy in the form of stretches and exercises designed to minimize pain.


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4. 5 Myths of Herniated Disc, Treatment of Disc Bulge, Lumbar Disc Herniation, LS Belt, Slipped Disc
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