A bulging disk (or herniated disk, ruptured disk, “slipped disk”) can cause symptoms of pain, numbness, weakness, or difficulty with fine movements (such as buttoning a shirt or feeling the ground when walking). Disks are named by the surrounding vertebrae – cervical (neck) disks, thoracic (mid-back) disks, and lumbar (low back) disks. Disks compressing a nerve can cause arm pain or leg pain, in addition to neck pain or back pain. Most bulging or herniated disks can be treated by medicines which reduce inflammation (or swelling) on the nerves; physical therapy may be another option, for strengthening back muscles. If these fail, a micro-diskectomy approach (one of the most common procedures we perform) has about a 90% success rate, is done through a small incision, and most patients can go home either the same or next day.
“Degenerative disk disease” refers to a disk which has lost its size, and altered its shape. These may or may not cause back pain, and almost always require additional testing before considering an operation for a “degenerative disk” – a diskogram (see next section) may be useful to determine whether a degenerative disk is causing symptoms.
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