Skip to main content

Herniated Disc

What is a Herniated Disc?

The word “herniate” means to bulge or stick out. The spine is made of stacked bones (vertebrae) separated by round, rubbery pads called intervertebral discs that cushion the bones as you move your body. A herniated disc, also called a slipped or ruptured disc, occurs when a fragment of the disc is pushed out into the spinal canal through a tear. The displaced fragment presses on spinal nerves, producing pain that may range from mild to severe.

UTHealth Houston Neurosciences pain management specialist Dr. Hiral Patel and neurosurgeon Dr. Krish Vigneswaran discuss the causes of lower back pain and different medical treatment options for it.

What You Can Expect at UTHealth Houston Neurosciences

At UTHealth Houston Neurosciences, we first investigate options for nonsurgical treatment, including medical management, pain management, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and watchful waiting. When surgery is needed, our neurosurgeons routinely employ innovative minimally invasive techniques. Throughout the treatment process, our team works closely with the doctor who referred you to ensure a smooth transition back to your regular care plan. While you are with us, you can expect expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.

Causes of Herniated Disc

Herniation can be caused by sudden twists or heavy lifting at any age, but they are more likely to occur in older people as the cartilage that forms discs begins to break down over time. Herniated discs are most common in the lumbar spine between the ribs and hips, and they may also occur in the cervical (neck) section of the spine. Over time, a degenerating disc may break down completely, leaving no space between two vertebrae, which can result in impaired movement, pain, and nerve damage.

Early Signs of Herniated Disc and Diagnosis

Symptoms vary greatly among individuals depending on the position of the herniated disc, the size of the herniation, and whether or not the disc is pressing on a nerve. Pain may develop slowly over time and then worsen suddenly. Some people have no pain at all.

Signs that a herniated cervical disc is pressing on a nerve are pain when moving your neck; pain near the shoulder blade; shooting pain down the arm and into the fingers; and numbness in the shoulder, elbow, forearm, or fingers. Signs of a herniated lumbar disc are pain or numbness in the leg, hip, or buttocks; pain or numbness in the back of the calf or sole of the foot; sciatica and radiculopathy; and weakness in one leg.

Our spine specialists generally use MRI imaging to diagnose a herniated disc and X-rays to complete the evaluation of the vertebra.


Most people with a herniated disc can be treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or pain relievers if the pain is mild to moderate. Your doctor may advise you to maintain a low activity level for a few days or weeks until the spinal nerve inflammation decreases. Physical therapy may be combined with massage, heat and ice therapy, muscle relaxants, and stretching exercises.

If the pain continues, your doctor may refer you to an interventional pain management specialist for an epidural steroid injection. If the injection fails to provide relief, the specialist may recommend radiofrequency ablation, an office procedure, to turn off a nerve’s ability to send pain messages to the brain.

People who still experience pain or are significantly restricted in their daily movements after trying conservative treatments may consider surgery to remove the deteriorated disc and fuse the two vertebrae. One option for surgery is a lumbar laminotomy. If the spine needs to be stabilized, your doctor may recommend spinal fusion as well.

The UTHealth Houston Neurosciences Spine Center brings together a multidisciplinary team of board-certified, fellowship-trained neurosurgeons, neurologists, researchers, and pain management specialists who work together to help provide relief for even the most complex problems. People who suffer from radiculopathy, spondylosis, spinal stenosis, herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, peripheral nerve disorders, spinal cord injury, or other trauma benefit from our collaborative expertise in managing spine disorders.

Spine Disease and Back Pain

Contact Us

At UTHealth Houston Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please call (713) 486-8100, or click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.