Herniated Discs Specialist

Kenneth I. Light, MD

Orthopedic Surgeon & Spine Specialist located in Bay Area, San Leandro, CA including San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and Fremont, California

As many as 20 in every 1,000 adults suffer herniated discs during their lifetime. A herniated disc is a common cause of low back pain and neck pain, but it’s a very treatable condition. For more than 40 years, experienced orthopedic surgeon Dr. Kenneth I. Light, MD, has skillfully diagnosed and treated herniated discs in every part of the spine. Dr. Light sees patients at his office in San Leandro, California, so call the office nearest you or schedule online.

Herniated Discs Q & A

What is a herniated disc?

A herniated disc occurs when one of the springy pads between your spinal vertebrae (bones) moves out of place. Healthy discs give your spine excellent flexibility and also absorb shock efficiently. 

But, when a disc herniates, its interior contents leak and pressure spinal nerves to cause pain and other physical problems. Herniated discs can occur in three areas:

Lumbar spine

Your lumbar spine includes five lower back vertebrae and their corresponding discs. It extends from roughly the bottom of your rib cage to the pelvis.

Thoracic spine

Your thoracic spine includes 12 vertebrae and their corresponding discs. It covers the area above your lumbar spine (middle and upper back).

Cervical spine

Your cervical spine includes seven vertebrae and discs. It starts at the base of your skull and ends at the bottom of your neck. 

The lumbar spine is the most common area of disc herniation, followed by cervical spine herniation. Thoracic spine disc herniations are uncommon. 

What symptoms do herniated discs cause? 

Herniated discs can cause a variety of problems, including:

  • Back pain
  • Sciatica - back pain that shoots down one leg
  • Neck pain, which may travel down the arm
  • Tingling sensations in an arm or leg
  • Numbness that moves into an arm or leg
  • Arm, hand, leg, or foot weakness

Loss of bladder and bowel control is a rare symptom that can occur with herniated discs in the lumbar spine. 

What causes herniated discs?

The main cause of herniated discs is wear-and-tear over time. That's why most herniated disc sufferers don't develop symptoms until they're in their 30s, 40s, or 50s. 

It's normal for discs to lose flexibility over time, which means even ordinary movements like twisting can potentially cause herniation if you happen to move a little too forcefully or at the wrong angle. 

Certain things can raise your risk of disc herniation at any age, including smoking, obesity, heavy lifting with your back, and repetitive strenuous exercise. 

Trauma, like a slip and fall, can cause herniated discs, but it's rare. Disc disease causes less than 5% of herniated discs.

How are herniated discs treated?

Herniated disc treatment usually starts with rest, activity modification, short-term oral medication, and cold compresses. In many cases, these simple measures allow you to heal naturally. Physical therapy can reduce pain and help to minimize future disc problems. 

If your herniated disc causes severe pain that you can’t manage with conservative care, Dr. Light might recommend injections that deliver cortisone directly in the irritated area. Injections can last for up to several months, but they don’t solve the problem of disc pressure permanently. 

If you have ongoing herniated disc symptoms that cause significant lifestyle disruption or disability, Dr. Light may recommend surgery such as disc replacement arthroplasty. In this procedure, Dr. Light replaces your damaged disc with a prosthetic disc to restore function.

Another option is spinal fusion surgery. Dr. Light removes your herniated disc and uses the Simmons Keystone technique to create a trapezoid shape within your vertebral bone. 

He harvests a small amount of bone from your hip and then places it into the newly created place in your spine. That helps to fuse your vertebrae and prevent movement and pain.

For herniated disc help, call Dr. Kenneth I. Light, MD, or click the online scheduling tool.