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Herniated Disks

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A herniated disk is a condition where a cushioning disk (called an intervertebral disk) between two vertebrae becomes ruptured and bulges beyond the fibrous outer capsule of the disk. Sometimes referred to as a “slipped” or “prolapsed” disk, a herniated disk can be extremely painful as the displaced portion of the disk can trigger intense soft tissue inflammation and place pressure on nerves.

Our board certified orthopaedic surgeons at Garden State Orthopaedic Associates are highly trained and experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of herniated disks. Through an examination and a variety of diagnostic tests, our doctors can discover the cause of your discomfort and develop a customized treatment strategy aimed at delivering lasting pain relief. While surgical techniques can provide an effective solution for this condition, our orthopaedic surgeons prefer to exhaust all non-surgical and minimally invasive treatment methods before exploring spine surgery. Many patients diagnosed with herniated disks are able to achieve sufficient relief through dedication to a comprehensive non-surgical treatment plan.

What Is a Herniated Disk?

A herniated disk typically starts out as a disk protrusion, which eventually ruptures due to increased pressure, trauma, or strain. When the outer wall of the intervertebral disk tears, becoming herniated, the central portion of the disk (called the nucleus pulposus) exits the capsule. This causes inflammation and potential nerve compression, depending on the severity of the disk’s damage.

Herniated Disk Symptoms

The type of symptoms you may suffer will depend upon the location of your herniated disk, the intensity of any soft tissue inflammation, and the direction and degree of pressure the prolapsed disk material is placing on surrounding nerves. It is possible for some individuals to remain symptom free; however, most of the patients who seek treatment do so because they are experiencing discomfort.

Symptoms of a herniated disk may include:

  • Continuous pain in the back, neck, and/or limbs
  • Muscular weakness, loss of motor-function, and/or changes in reflexes
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Sciatica—tingling, weakness, numbness, and/or pain extending from the lower back, to the buttock, and down the leg
  • Radiating nerve pain in the legs and groin
  • In extreme cases, permanent nerve damage, paralysis, incontinence, and/or sexual dysfunction may occur

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, we suggest that you contact our office to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced orthopaedic specialists. These symptoms often indicate an underlying condition which could potentially worsen without proper diagnosis and prompt treatment.

Herniated Disk Diagnosis

When patients come to our practice with complaints that are consistent with a herniated disk, our doctors proceed with comprehensive medical assessments and diagnostic testing to rule out other spinal conditions which could be responsible for their symptoms. You can expect a physical exam and discussion of your symptoms and medical history, followed by imaging of the affected area(s) with specialized X-ray, CT scan, and/or MRI techniques. In some cases, neurological testing is also performed to determine the extent/severity of nerve damage or nerve compression.

Herniated Disk Treatment

Once you have been diagnosed with a herniated disk, your orthopaedic surgeon will discuss the treatment options that are most appropriate for alleviating your symptoms and hopefully resolving the condition altogether. Surgery for herniated disks is typically a last resort, so most patients are advised to try a variety of non-surgical and minimally invasive treatments first. Non-surgical treatments may include physical therapy (exercise and stretching), anti inflammatory medications, steroid injections, weight loss, and highly specialized chiropractic care (spinal manipulation). For the majority of patients, these techniques prove to be successful; however, patients must be committed to following through with the treatment plan to achieve an optimal outcome.

For patients who are unable to achieve relief through non-surgical means, our highly skilled orthopaedic surgeons may suggest a variety of effective surgical techniques. These may include:

  • Partial Discectomy – The ruptured portion of the disk is removed to alleviate pressure on the nerves. Advanced techniques using specialized microscopes (microdiscectomy) may be employed for improved precision and reduced recovery time.
  • Full Discectomy with Fusion – When the entire disk must be removed, our surgeons may utilize bone grafts to fuse the vertebrae together to achieve a stable spine that remains in proper alignment.
  • Artificial Disk Replacement – An artificial disk made of polymer material and titanium may be used to replace a damaged disk that must be removed. This technique allows the patient to maintain flexibility in the spine, unlike fusion which can limit spinal mobility in the treated area.

Not all patients are candidates for these procedures, and your surgeon will discuss which techniques may be best for your unique needs.

If you have back pain and related discomfort, we invite you to explore your options for relief at Garden State Orthopaedic Associates. Our team is experienced in state-of-the-art diagnostics and treatment strategies for herniated disks and other spinal conditions, and we can help you regain a more active, pain-free lifestyle.