Understanding Herniated Disc Pain: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Understanding Herniated Disc Pain

Herniated discs are among the most common causes of lower back and neck pain — each year as many as 6.6 million people are diagnosed with a herniated disc in the United States alone. So if you are dealing with herniated disc pain, you are not alone. Although the symptoms can be debilitating and interfere with the ability to enjoy everyday activities and spend time with friends and family, herniated disc pain is very often manageable. 

This helpful overview will provide a detailed understanding of herniated disc pain, including the causes of herniated discs, the most common symptoms and effective treatments. By learning more about this condition, you can take charge of your care and start to achieve the quality of life you deserve. 


What Causes Herniated Discs and Herniated Disc Pain? 

A herniated disc occurs when the soft inner material of a spinal disc begins to push out through a crack or tear in the tougher outer layer. The spinal discs sit between the vertebrae, cushioning the spine and enabling basic movement such as bending, flexing and twisting. Over time, natural degeneration combined with everyday stresses can cause the discs to weaken and lose elasticity, making conditions such as bulging and herniated discs more likely. 

A herniated disc by itself is not necessarily painful and the condition often goes undiagnosed. Herniated disc pain typically occurs when displaced disc material irritates or puts pressure on surrounding nerves. Nerves affected by a herniated disc can include the spinal cord, branching nerve roots and small nerves on the disc itself. 


Herniated Disc Symptoms

Herniated disc pain can depend on the location of the herniated disc as well as the specific nerves affected by displaced disc material. For example, a herniated disc in the cervical, or upper, spine will generally cause neck pain and radiating symptoms in the upper extremities. A herniated disc in the lumbar, or lower, spinal region is usually a source of lower back pain and radiating symptoms in the lower body. Herniated disc pain can also occur in the cervical, or middle, spine but is less common due to the fixed nature of this region.  

Herniated disc pain can include, but is not limited to:

  • Localized pain, often described as a burning sensation, in the neck or lower back
  • Shooting pains in the hips, buttocks and legs, also known as sciatica, due to compression of the sciatic nerve by a herniated disc 
  • Radiating symptoms in the upper or lower extremities, including tingling, numbness and muscle weakness
  • In severe cases, herniated disc pain can result in a pronounced limp and foot drop 

Herniated disc pain can range in severity from mild to severe and debilitating. Untreated herniated disc pain can lead to long-term nerve damage and mobility problems that are more difficult to manage. This is why being proactive about seeking diagnosis and treatment is so important. 


Treating Herniated Disc Pain

Doctors and pain management specialists typically diagnose herniated discs through a discussion of symptoms, review of medical history, a physical examination and diagnostic testing such as an X-ray or MRI. 

For mild herniated disc pain, basic conservative treatments such as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, hot and cold therapy and gentle stretches can often be effective. It is also important for anyone diagnosed with a herniated disc to commit to a spine-healthy lifestyle that includes eating a nutritious diet, practicing good posture, staying active and avoiding tobacco products and excessive alcohol consumption. 

Moderate to severe herniated disc pain may benefit from more involved therapies, including:

  • Physical therapy 
  • Interventional pain management treatments, including epidural steroid injections
  • Therapeutic massage
  • Alternative therapies such as acupuncture   

For herniated disc pain that does not respond to a full course of nonsurgical therapy, herniated disc surgery can be an effective course of treatment. Thanks to advancements in surgical technology and technique, minimally invasive spine surgery can now help patients find long-term relief from herniated disc symptoms on an outpatient basis. Surgeons can access the herniated disc and remove displaced material with a small incision and minimal disruption of soft tissue compared to traditional open spine procedures, helping patients achieve a shorter recovery time and less risk of complication. 


For Herniated Disc Pain Relief, Reach Out to Physician Partners of America Today

Whether you are exploring interventional pain management or considering surgery for herniated disc pain, Physician Partners of America (PPOA) can help. We work closely with patients from all walks of life to develop a highly individualized plan that fits anyone’s treatment goals. Our mission is to provide compassionate, evidence-based care that puts you on the path to wellness and a healthy, active lifestyle. 

To start your pain relief journey, contact us today to make an appointment.