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Herniated nucleus pulposus

What is a herniated nucleus pulposus?

A herniated nucleus pulposus occurs when a tear in the tough outer wall of a spinal disc allows the inner, gel-like portion of the disc to leak out. The condition is also known as a herniated disc and it is fairly common. Because not all herniated discs cause symptoms, not all of them require medical intervention. However, in some cases, the leaked portion of the disc can put pressure on surrounding nerves, causing problems.

How is a herniated nucleus pulposus diagnosed?

A herniated disc is often identified when a patient complains of neck or back pain or other symptoms commonly associated with the issue. Diagnosis can be confirmed by a physician using a physical examination, during which the physician looks for specific signs that a disc may be herniated. The patient may be asked to perform simple motions, such as bending over or twisting from side to side, to help determine the cause of pain.

Imaging tests, such as X-rays and MRI or CT scans can also be used to confirm the herniated nucleus pulposus diagnosis or to rule out other potential causes of a given patient’s symptoms.

What causes a herniated nucleus pulposus?

Herniated discs generally result from two main causes — sudden impact (trauma) or ongoing overuse (strain). The spinal discs provide much-needed cushioning between the bones of the spine, but they sometimes become damaged, especially in advanced age. Although the leak itself typically only causes local irritation, the majority of symptoms happen when the gelatinous interior of the disc makes contact with a nearby nerve root or the spinal cord.

What are the symptoms of a herniated nucleus pulposus?

In addition to localized pain at the site of the herniated disc, symptoms can include radiating pain that affects the shoulder or arms (for discs in the upper spine) and the buttocks, legs and feet (discs in the lower back). Numbness, weakness and muscle spasms may also be present when a disc is damaged and compressing a nerve root.

What are some common treatments for a herniated nucleus pulposus?

Herniated disc treatment usually consists of limited rest aided by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling. Physical therapy, regular exercise and spinal injections may also be useful. In many cases, surgery is not required to treat this condition.

Will I need surgery?

For patients who still experience symptoms despite weeks and months of normal treatment measures, surgery may be an option. If you fall into this category, be sure to explore all the options available to you for addressing your herniated nucleus pulposus. One such option is turning to Laser Spine Institute, where we offer minimally invasive spine surgery as an alternative to traditional open spine procedures.

Contact us today to learn about Laser Spine Institute’s Scottsdale, Ariz., surgery center, and for a no-cost MRI review* to find out if you’re a candidate for our procedures.