The disc is the cushion between the vertebrae and is much like a jelly doughnut. If the dough of the doughnut tears, lower back pain may develop. If jelly is squeezed out of the opening, it can press on the nerve and can create pain and weakness. The herniated material can compress the nerves around the disc and create pain that can radiate through the back and sometimes down the arms (if the herniation is in the cervical spine) and legs (if the herniation is in the lumbar spine).
We can’t put the jelly back into the doughnut, but we can flush around and shrink the protruding jelly with steroids or simply remove the jelly fragment in the lumbar spine with an outpatient procedure called a microdiscectomy. If this occurs in the cervical spine an overnight stay in the hospital is commonly required. During surgery, generally only the disc material compressing the nerve will be removed, and most (95%) of the intervertebral disc material is left in place.
Pain and other symptoms from a herniated disc can usually be treated successfully with medication and nonsurgical options, including physical therapy, chiropractic manipulation, and injections.