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What is a herniated disk?

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Under stress, a disk's inner material may swell, pushing through its tough outer membrane. The entire disk can become distorted or bulge in spots. With an injury, all or part of the core material may protrude through the outer casing at a weak spot, pressing against surrounding nerves.

If activity or injury causes the membrane to rupture or tear, the disk material may put pressure on the spinal cord or the nerves that spread from it. This may cause extreme pain. In the beginning, there may be spasms in the back or neck which will greatly limit your movement. If nerves are affected, you may have pain that moves into a leg or an arm.

Most disk injuries are in the lumbar region of the lower back. Only 10% of these injuries affect the upper spine. Not all herniated disks press on nerves -- it's possible to have deformed disks without any pain or discomfort.

SOURCES: 

Medtronic Sofamor Danek, Inc. 

The Mayo Clinic.

Reviewed by David Zelman on April 21, 2017

SOURCES: 

Medtronic Sofamor Danek, Inc. 

The Mayo Clinic.

Reviewed by David Zelman on April 21, 2017

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What causes a herniated disk?

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