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What is a herniated disc?

A herniated disk is also called a slipped or bulging disk or a pinched nerve. The disks are oval-shaped structures that sit between the vertebrae. They have a gel-like center and three tougher outer layers. Some people think of the disks like jelly doughnuts, where the center is the jelly and outer part is the dough. In this injury, some of the disk center pushes into the outer layers. It may even push all the way out of these layers. When this happens, the center gel can press on the nerves that branch off the spinal cord.

This answer provided for NATA by the University of Alabama Athletic Training Education Program.

Dr. Stephen Q. Parker, MD
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Specialist

In general, disk herniations represent a spilling away, if you will, of the innermost contents of the spinal disk, the term called the nucleus pulposus. The spinal disk or the disk that are located between the vertebrae, both from the cervical spine through the lumbar spine are made up of an inner nucleus pulposus which is a gelatinous material surrounded by a membrane which is further encompassed by the annulus fibrosus which is a fibrinous network of tissue meant to contain the nucleus pulposus and the combination of those two structures are determined to be the spinal disk. Secondary to trauma in general or repetitive injury to the disk injuring the nucleus fibrosis can cause a leaking of the nucleus pulposus which in those cases can impact the spinal nerve or the entire orientation of vertebrae to vertebrae causing significant back pain and debility.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.