When a patient has a disc herniation, this means there is a problem with one of the rubbery, gel-like cushions between the vertebrae of the spine. Disc herniation occurs when the interior “jelly” of the disc pushes through the tougher exterior and irritates nearby nerves, resulting in pain that ranges from mild to severe.
In most cases, disc herniations occur and worsen over many years, although a common activity like coughing or lifting an object may cause the last fibers in the damaged area to tear.
Most people with mild disc herniation will improve on their own in about six to eight weeks. For other people, the pain will be more intense and persistent. Physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications and/or pain relievers may be recommended help alleviate symptoms. When symptoms don’t respond to this type of conservative treatment, surgery may be necessary, especially if the pain is persistent and/or intense, or there is weakness in the arms or legs.
The goal of surgery is to reduce the pressure from the herniated disc on surrounding tissues and is especially focused on relieving any pressure on the nerve roots as they exit from the spinal cord. This should relieve any symptoms of pain or sensation traveling down into the arms or legs.