What is the difference in a herniated disk & a ruptured disk?

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besure77's profile pic

besure77 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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The discs that are in our spine acts as a cushion for our bodies. People that experience herniated, ruptured, or bulging discs are often in a great deal of pain. A herniated disc can also be called a ruptured disc. This is when the outer part of the disc cracks and some of the soft gel like material from inside the disc pops out. A different term that you may be looking for is a bulging disc which is different. When someone has a bulging disc it means that the disc has slipped out of place but it has not cracked at all.

There are various treatments available for people who suffer with a herniated disc. Some of these treatments include pain medications, electrical stimulation, physical therapy, exercise, and surgery.

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sdeadder | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted on

Dear Student,
There actually is not a difference between a herniated disc and a ruptured disc.  The two names are interchangeable for the same condition.   It may also be called a “slipped disc.”   Our discs serve as shock absorbers for our spine and are located between the vertebrae from our low back (the lumbar spine) and our neck (the cervical spine).  A herniated/ruptured disc occurs when the gelatinous substance inside the disc comes through a tear in the outer layer of the disc (the annulus).  A tear in the annulus can come about for a variety of reason such as a trauma to the disc (a car accident for example), wear or tear on the disc that is a natural aging process, or from disease such as degenerative disc disease.  Typically, when a disc herniates, the person will have pain in his/her legs which is the result of the injured disc putting pressure on the surrounding nerves.  Often times, the sciatic nerve (a major nerve that runs down the thigh) is compressed, which causes severe shooting pains down one leg.  Having had back problems myself for 10 years, doctors have informed me that surgery is performed to alleviate the leg pain caused by disc herniation, not the back pain.  Usually, if a person has back pain, but not severe leg pain, physical therapy, cold/heat therapy, and pain medications are the usual course of treatment.  Also, remember that a “bulging disc” is one in which the inner gelatinous substance of the disc is putting pressure on the annulus, but has not come through the annulus.  This can also cause leg and back pain.

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