A disc herniation occurs when outer layer of the disc (annulus) tears and allows the soft tissue of the disc (nucleus pulpous) to bulge out and press upon the spinal cord and nerves. This can cause neck or back pain that can radiate into the arms or legs.
Disc herniation ranges in size, from very small to large. Sometimes there is an extruded fragment; a piece of disc that breaks off and compresses upon the spinal cord and nerves. Small disc bulges can cause minor symptoms and response well to conservative treatments. A large disc herniation can cause weakness, numbness, or tingling. The patient may have trouble performing simple tasks due to the weakness. If weakness occurs surgery is usually recommended.
General wear and tear over time or some type of trauma or physical stress like from sports or lifting can cause herniation. Sometimes the cause is unknown (idiopathic).
There are a few surgery options for disc herniation. The most common is a discectomy. A discectomy involves removing the portion of the disc that is herniated. This will take the pressure off the nerve and or spinal cord. A discectomy and fusion is done when the discectomy makes the spine unstable and it must be stabilized. This involves inserting screws and rods to hold the spine steady.