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Disc Herniation

The spine is made up of individual bones, the vertebrae, separated from each other by a disc to provide insulation and cushioning. Disc herniation, or a slipped disc, occurs when the interior area of the disc breaks through the outer area of the disc, and pushes into the spinal canal, or when the entire disc becomes displaced from its normal positioning. Disc herniation occurs most commonly in the neck area, and in the lower back, and can be a result of wear-and-tear from aging or from trauma.

Problems due to disc herniation occur because the displaced disc presses on the spinal cord or the nerves leaving the spinal cord. This can result in problems ranging from tingling in the hands, feet, or buttocks; weakness of a limb; back, leg, or arm pain; loss of bladder control; loss of normal reflexes (for example, normally tapping the knee with an exam hammer results in an involuntary kicking out the foot; disc herniation may make it impossible to elicit this foot kick, as well as other reflexes); or in very extreme cases, paralysis.

Cases of disc herniation with less extreme symptomatology can be treated with such measures as a neck brace or back brace, medications to reduce swelling (nerve roots experiencing pressure from the protruding disc may swell, further compromising their function), heat, and pain medications. When pain is untreatable, or loss of function is severe or progressive, surgery may be required to relieve or halt further progression of the symptoms.



Abernathy, Charles, and Brett Abernathy. Surgical Secrets. Philadelphia: Hanley and Belfus, Inc., 1986.

Berkow, Robert, and Andrew J. Fletcher. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. Rahway, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories, 1992.

Way, Lawrence. Current Surgical Diagnosis and Treatment. Los Altos, CA: Lange Medical Publications, 1983.

Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt


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—A condition or disability present at birth.


—The sheet-like muscle that is supposed to separate the contents of the abdomen from the contents of the chest cavity. The diaphragm is a major muscle involved in breathing.


—Refers to a hernia which gets trapped protruding through an abnormal opening. Most frequently refers to loops of the intestine which cannot be easily replaced in their normal location.


—Referring to the groin area, that area where the upper thigh meets the lower abdomen.

Invertebral disc

—The cartilaginous disc located between each of the vertebral bones of the spine. This disc provides cushioning and insulation.


—The ability to put a displaced part of the anatomy (in particular, the loops of intestine present in a hernia) back in their correct location by simply pushing on the bulging area.


—A situation which occurs when the blood supply to an organ is cut off, resulting in death of that tissue.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Habit memory: to HeterodontHernia - Groin Hernias, Abdominal Hernias, Hiatal Hernia, Diaphragmatic Hernia, Brain Herniation, Disc Herniation