Herniated disc

What is a herniated disc?

Also known as disc displacement, disc herniation or disc rupture, it occurs when any of the intervertebral discs is damaged, causing pain, numbness or burning sensation, weakness… in the back and also in areas such as arms or legs, depending on at what height of the column the herniated disc is.

Between the vertebrae of the spine are the so-called intervertebral discs, that serve as an articulation between the bones of the spine, avoiding direct contact between the vertebrae and cushioning the impact of movements, such as the one that occurs when walking or jumping.

These discs are formed by a fibrocartilaginous material, whose center is softer and gelatinous, while the outer part of the disc is more solid.

The herniated disc occurs when the outer part of the disc is torn, so that the soft center of the disc can pass through that tear, exerting pressure on the nearby nerves and/or the spinal cord itself, thus causing pain and rest of symptoms derived from herniated disc.

What areas can the herniated disc affect?

Depending on the area in which the damaged intervertebral disc is located, the herniated disc can be classified as:

  • Cervical: affects the neck region.
  • Thoracic: affects the middle region of the back.
  • Lumbar: affects the lower area of the back.

The area where herniated discs most frequently occur is usually the lumbar, although it is also common in the cervical.

Types of herniated disc

Herniated disc can also be classified into several types, depending on how damaged the disc is:

  • Protruding herniated disc: there is already damage on the outside, and the gelatinous center of the disc, although still intact, has begun to lose its oval shape.
  • Disc extrusion: the disc nucleus has already been deformed, forming a kind of ‘drop’.
  • Sequestered Herniation: the disc nucleus is very damaged and can even be divided into two parts.

In addition, depending on the exact location of the hernia, it can be posterolateral, in which the nerves of a single lateral of the body (of an arm or a leg, for example) can be pressed and affected; or posterior, in which case it is the spinal cord that is pressed, and may affect both sides (the two arms, or both legs, for example).

Causes of herniated disc

Normally the main cause of herniated disc is the wear itself due to aging: over time, the discs lose flexibility, making them easier to tear or break, depending on the case even with minimal effort or movement.

Other causes that can cause the rupture of a disc are a bad posture continuously and on a daily basis, lifting and carrying heavy objects improperly, or excess weight. It can also occur as a result of a spinal injury resulting from a fall or blow to the back.

Who is at higher risk of suffering from a herniated disc?

  • People of advanced age: at higher age, greater fragility of the discs and, therefore, greater risk of the appearance of a herniated disc.
  • People who are overweight: since excess weight means a greater load to bear for the discs, especially those in the lumbar area.
  • People with professions with great physical demand: performing repetitive actions that require lifting, pulling or pushing objects, leaning, turning the body, etc… increases the risk of suffering a herniated disc.
  • People with genetic predisposition: in some cases, certain people inherit a predisposition to suffer a herniated disc.

Symptoms of herniated disc

The main symptom of the herniated disc is intense pain, located in the area where the hernia is located, in addition to feeling numbness, tingling, and also weakness in the muscles and difficulty of movement in the affected areas.

If it is in the cervical area, the symptoms will appear in the neck, and may also spread to the arms. On the other hand, if the herniated disc occurs in the lumbar area, it may affect the legs, so that numbness will be felt in the buttocks area and in the back, front and inner legs.

The pains caused by a herniated disc usually worsen when making movements, may be aggravated when coughing, laughing, urinating or evacuation, etc… Such pains may arise suddenly or progressively worsen as time passes.

Diagnosis of herniated disc

The diagnosis of a herniated disc is made by a complete physical examination of the spine, arms and legs, checking its flexibility, movement and any sign or symptom that may indicate the presence of a herniated disc.

The confirmation of the diagnosis can be made by means of a computerized tomography or a magnetic resonance (MRI), which allow to evaluate in more detail the condition of damaged intervertebral disc, its thickness, the exact location and type of the hernia, etc…

In some cases, the doctor first asks for an x-ray test to check the alignment of the spine and the condition of the vertebrae, and once the results are seen, he asks for the resonance or tomography.

Treatments for herniated disc

Once it has been diagnosed, the doctor will evaluate and indicate the most appropriate treatment, which depending on the case may consist of non-surgical treatments such as physiotherapy, pilates, medications, etc… or by surgery.

Surgery is usually recommended as the last option if, after trying other non-surgical treatments for several months, these are not effective to relieve symptoms and improve the quality of life of the patient.

Among surgical treatments to treat herniated disc are replacement of the damaged disc with an artificial one, decompression surgery, or spinal fusion surgery.


At Vithas Xanit International Hospital we offer you the best specialists in the treatment and surgery of the spinal column, who will give you the best care in the diagnosis, treatment and, when necessary, surgery of the herniated disc. Contact us for more information or make an appointment.