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Herniated Disc


What Is a Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc happens when the disc between your vertebrae (the bones that form your spine) bulges out of place or squishes out through a tear in the outer layer. The herniated disc can then press against the nerves in your spine, causing pain in your back, legs, neck and arms.

Typically, wear and tear on the outer layer of the disc causes a herniated disc. Sometimes, though, an injury can cause a herniated disc.

A herniated disc is also known as a ruptured disc or a slipped disc. Most people experience a herniated disc in the lower back (sciatica), where it causes pain and numbness in the buttock and leg. Occasionally, people have a herniated disc in the neck. It is less common in the upper-to-middle back.

At Aurora Health Care, we focus on nonsurgical treatments first, like injections or physical therapy. If those methods don’t provide relief, we’ll discuss surgical options with you. Together, we’ll find the right treatment solution that fits your needs and lifestyle.

The Aurora Difference

Advanced Treatment for a Herniated Disc

Aurora is one of the largest regional health care providers in Wisconsin, treating thousands of people for herniated discs and other back pain conditions every year. When you choose us for your care, you can count on:

  • Treatment that focuses on you: We treat all of you, not just your pain. We consider your overall health, preferences and goals when creating a herniated disc treatment plan. Our team helps you get back to the life you love, whether you’re a competitive athlete, you enjoy spending the weekends gardening or both.
  • Collaborative orthopedic and neurosurgery care: Your spinal cord is part of your central nervous system. That means that for orthopedic spine problems, like a herniated disc, you need a care team that understands both the orthopedic and neurological aspects of a spine condition. We offer one of the only teams in Wisconsin that includes both orthopedic and neurosurgery experts working together. This structure allows us to offer comprehensive, seamless care that considers all aspects of your well-being – including the health of your complex nervous system.
  • Convenient locations: We have multiple locations across eastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. That means you can find herniated disc treatment close to where you live or work. With less travel time to appointments, you can focus more of your energy on getting well.
  • Customized rehabilitation: If you need rehabilitation after surgery, our expert physical therapists will work with you one-on-one to provide customized care. Through exercises targeted to your needs, we’ll help you regain your strength and function so you can get back to your active life. Learn more about our rehabilitation and therapy services.

Symptoms & Causes

Symptoms of a Herniated Disc

A herniated disc doesn’t always cause back pain. However, if a ruptured disc presses on your spinal nerves, you may experience symptoms including:

  • Numbness, tingling or a “pins-and-needles” sensation
  • Muscle spasms or weakness
  • Intermittent or continuous pain, often on one side of your body
  • Sciatica pain, which is lower back pain that travels down to your buttock, leg and foot
  • Decreased reflexes in your knee or ankle
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control, a rare symptom that may indicate a more serious problem called cauda equina syndrome (when something is pressing against the nerves at the lower end of your spinal cord)

Causes & Risk Factors for a Herniated Disc

Common causes and risk factors of a herniated disc include:

  • Age-related wear and tear on the outer layer of the slipped disc, making this condition more common as you age
  • Poor posture: Sitting, walking or lifting using incorrect posture can make the symptoms of a herniated disc worse.
  • Injury, like from lifting something incorrectly; people whose jobs involve frequent manual labor are at higher risk
  • Obesity, because extra weight causes strain on the discs in your lower back (Learn more about obesity and weight management services at Aurora.)


Expert Herniated Disc Diagnosis

To see if you have a herniated disc, we will:

  • Ask you about your symptoms, lifestyle and medical history
  • Perform a physical examination
  • Test your muscle strength, sensations and reflexes by asking you to:
    • Sit, stand, walk or bend
    • Move your neck, arms and shoulders

We may also order diagnostic tests to confirm your diagnosis, including:

  • Straight-leg raise test: We raise your leg while you lie on your back. This method helps determine the location of the pain.
  • X-ray: We may use this test to rule out other, underlying conditions.
  • Imaging scans: Computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can pinpoint the precise location of the herniated disc.
  • Electromyography (EMG): Using small needles, we measure activity in your muscles and determine if the herniated disc is affecting nerve roots.
  • Myelogram: After injecting a dye into your spine, we perform a CT scan to identify the location and size of the herniated disc.

Our experienced team will provide a precise diagnosis so we can get you the treatment you need fast. Learn more about our approach to orthopedic diagnosis.


Comprehensive Herniated Disc Treatment

Once you have a diagnosis, we will discuss your treatment plan with you. We’ll try nonsurgical methods first to relieve your back pain and restore your function. Nonsurgical treatments may include:

  • Over-the-counter pain medication: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) can relieve your pain.
  • Physical therapy: A customized physical therapy plan can strengthen the muscles around your spine and improve your flexibility, which can help prevent further damage. Our physical therapists can also teach you to properly move and lift things to prevent the injury from happening again. Find out more about physical therapy.
  • Chiropractic care: Our chiropractic experts provide focused chiropractic services to relieve lower back pain, including pain caused by a herniated disc. A customized chiropractic plan can help you feel better and get back to your daily routine. Find out more about our chiropractic care.
  • Injections: Anti-inflammatory medications that are injected into the spine can control back pain and reduce swelling. Learn more about our injections for joint pain.

If nonsurgical treatments don’t provide enough relief, we’ll discuss whether surgery is right for you. Herniated disc surgery may be a good option if you have progressive nerve damage. Learn more about your spine surgery options at Aurora.

Find Spine Care Near You

When you have degenerative disc disease, the Aurora Spine Program makes it easier for you to get back to the things that matter most. With a single entry point and your own care coordinator, you’ll be connected to an integrated team of specialists all working together on your personalized treatment plan. Learn more about our program locations in eastern Wisconsin:

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