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Dr. Perry What are the advantages of Laser Spine Institute?
Dr. Michael Perry, Chief Medical Director and Co-Founder of Laser Spine Institute, explains the breakthrough procedures and gives you the opportunity to find out whether you are a candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery.

Herniated Disc Overview

It may come as a surprise to learn the spine is equipped with its own set of shock absorbers: the thick spongy pads known as discs that cushion and separate vertebrae, the spine’s building blocks. As we age, these discs dry out and become less flexible, thus increasing the odds a disc may bulge or break open, a condition called a herniated disc. While a herniated disc may occur anywhere in your spine, they’re most common in the lower back (lumbar spine). Some occur in the neck (cervical spine), but it’s unusual for a herniated disc to occur in the upper back (thoracic spine). Most of us will experience a herniated disc at some point in our lives without even knowing it, while others become painfully aware of the problem if it’s linked to irritation, impingement or compression of a spinal nerve.

Herniated disc symptoms

If left untreated, a herniated disc can create chronic pain that persists for weeks or months with little relief. The pain can vary in intensity for different individuals, who describe it as dull, throbbing and persistent. When a herniated disc bulges and breaks open, it’s inner gel-like material can impact a spinal nerve, causing nerve compression. The most common symptoms of nerve compression, called “radiculopathy,” include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness and tingling in the extremities
  • A sensation of heat or pins-and-needles
  • Diminished reflexes or neuropathic response
  • Traveling or radiating pain

The exact location of the herniated disc also plays a role in the symptoms. For example, a person with nerve compression caused by a herniated disc in the neck (cervical spine) may experience symptoms in the neck, shoulders, arms, hands, fingertips and throughout the upper body. The same condition in the lower back can lead to similar symptoms in the buttocks, hips, thighs, legs, calves, feet, toes and throughout the lower body.

Herniated disc causes

As you age, life’s daily wear and tear on the spine takes its toll on the intervertebral discs, which can eventually become worn, bulged or even herniated. While the natural aging process is one of the leading causes of herniated discs, other risk factors and activities also may play a role:

  • Trauma to the intervertebral discs, which can be caused by something as dramatic as a car accident or simple as a short fall
  • Repetitive mechanical movements, such as constant bending, twisting and other unnatural movements required in sports and a variety of jobs
  • Obesity, which places an additional burden on discs, thus speeding their degeneration
  • A sedentary lifestyle, which weakens your back’s musculature and places additional strain on the spinal column and intervertebral discs
  • Poor posture
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Nicotine addiction

Herniated disc treatment

Once you’ve been diagnosed with a herniated disc, your physician will discuss your treatment options. These options vary among patients, depending on the herniated disc’s location in the spine, severity of the condition, and symptoms. In most cases, physicians first recommend conservative, nonsurgical options, such as:

  • Physical therapy, exercise and stretching
  • Limited bed rest
  • Hot/cold therapy
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Epidural steroid injections

While most patients find relief from one or more of these conservative options, for others, the pain persists and interferes with their quality of life. At this point, a physician may recommend surgical intervention. But before a patient consents to surgery, with its risks and possible complications, it’s wise to explore the minimally invasive, outpatient procedures performed at Laser Spine Institute. Laser Spine Institute’s minimally invasive procedures offer a safer and effective alternative to open spine surgery.^

Additional Information on Common Spine Conditions