Herniated Disc | Symptoms & Treatments | MedStar Health

A long column of bones called vertebrae makes up your spine. The spine runs from your neck to your lower back and forms a protective cushion around your spinal cord, which is a delicate bundle of nerves connected to your brain.

Between your spinal bones (vertebrae) are pads of cartilage called discs. Natural use or strain can cause a disc to rupture (leak) or slip out of place (herniate). When a disc weakens, parts of it can shift and put pressure on a nerve or even the spinal cord. It may result in pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness.

A variety of factors reduces the amount of water in the discs, making them weaker and more likely to get injured. These include:

  • Natural aging process
  • Being overweight
  • Picking up heavy objects
  • Smoking

Our slipped disc, herniated disc treatment options are located in the Washington DC, Baltimore, Maryland, and Virginia areas.

Herniated Disc

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Trauma or injury to the back can cause the cushioning discs to rupture or to protrude herniate from the spinal column. The disc then presses on the branching nerves.


  • Pain in the back or neck
  • Burning sensation
  • Arm and/or leg weakness
  • Numbness
  • Tingling, like your arm or leg "fell asleep"
  • Bladder control problems

Herniated disc care

Our team of experienced orthopedic surgeons offers you a range of options to manage your herniated disc condition. First, we explain the details of your condition and answer any questions you and your family may have. Once you understand your condition, we work together with you to develop a treatment plan. Whenever appropriate, we will recommend non-surgical treatment methods to treat your pain before resorting to surgery. We help you weigh the risks and benefits of all options – both non-surgical and surgical – so you can choose a treatment plan that will be most appropriate and effective for you.

How is a herniated disc diagnosed?

Our orthopedic surgeons are experts at diagnosing herniated discs.  Our initial exam generally includes:

  • Taking your medical history: This includes asking questions about when your pain began, and when the pain feels most severe. Other questions may be about whether you have other medical problems, and if you take any medications

  • Physical exam: The orthopedist will determine where your back is most sensitive by examining it and by asking you to move and bend in different directions 
  • Imaging tests: Your orthopedist may want to examine the bones and joints themselves using a variety of imaging techniques, including:
    • X-ray: This can help determine if your bones are aging 
    • CT scan: This combines X-ray technology with computers to provide a very detailed picture of the spine 
    • MRI: This uses powerful magnets and computer technology to create a picture of your muscles, tissues, nerves, and discs 
  • Nerve test: This can show how well your nerves are functioning, and indicate exactly where you have a herniated disc

Herniated disc treatments

Most people suffering from a herniated disc respond well to non-surgical treatment, which includes:

  • Resting the back
  • Taking prescription or over-the-counter anti-inflammatory or pain medications
  • Doing physical therapy, including applying heat or ice, massage, and exercises to strengthen the back

If non-surgical treatment does not relieve your pain, you may need surgery. MedStar Health orthopedic surgeons will work with you to determine the least invasive and most effective surgical option.