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Herniated Nucleus Pulposus

Last reviewed by Dr. Raj MD on January 12th, 2022.

What is a Herniated Nucleus Pulposus?

This medical condition is when all or part of the soft gelatinous central portion of your intervertebral disk is forced through the weakened part of the disc. There are a various names that also refer to this medical condition which are:

  • Lumbar radiculopathy
  • Slipped disc
  • Ruptured disc
  • Prolapsed intervertebral disc
  • Herniated disc

People that usually get this medical condition are the elderly and adults, especially men who are involved in strenuous activities.


Generally herniated nucleus pulposus do not cause any symptoms. Symptoms are usually not felt until the nucleus pulposus impinges on the spinal cord or a nerve that is nearby. What symptoms a person might have with this medical condition will normally depend on what area of your spine is affected.

General symptoms

  • Chronic pain
  • Pain that travels the length of a nerve that can sometimes be so severe that you cannot move. It will usually happen on one side of the body.
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Weakness
  • Loss of reflexes

Cervical disc symptoms

  • Weakness of your neck and arms
  • Shoulder pain
  • May experience an increase in pain when you move your head from side to side or bending your neck.

Lumbar area symptoms

  • Pain in the lower section of your back.
  • In the legs and feet you may notice weakness, tingling, and numbness.

These symptoms may intensify when you laugh or cough. The pain that is associated with herniated nucleus pulposus will normally start out slow and get worse. This can happen:

  • After sitting or standing
  • At night
  • When you walk more than a few yards or bending backward, especially if the pain is caused by spinal stenosis.

You may also have some weakness in certain muscles. Over a period of weeks to months the numbness, weakness, or pain will often improve or go away.

Herniated nucleus pulposus Causes

A common cause of herniated nucleus pulposus is trauma to your spine that is caused by strain and stress because of heavy physical activity. Other causes can include:

  • People who drive for a living because of the constant vibrations that drivers experience while on the road.
  • Aging processes
  • Smoking
  • Your discs may rupture from strain or trauma or move out of place.

A person will usually experience herniated nucleus pulposus in their lower back, also known as their lumbar area. In the cervical disc, which is in the neck, are affected eight percent of time.


When seeking treatment for herniated nucleus pulposus you will need to see a neurologists or neurosurgeons. They are the doctors that treat a person who have problems with their spinal cord and brain. They will do a physical examination along with any neurological tests in order to assess and then determine the cause of your symptoms so you can get the right treatment. They may do a variety of tests such as:

  • X-rays
  • CT scan, also referred to as a computed tomography.
  • MRI scan, also referred to as a magnetic resonance imaging.


After being given the diagnosis of herniated nucleus pulposus the neurologists will usually give you medication to help relieve pain and anti-inflammatory medication. They may give you a prescription for pain medication or ask you to try over-the-counter medication for pain relief first. They also suggest that you have physical therapy along with rest because physical therapy is very important physical therapy is very important for people who have herniated nucleus pulposus. If you are overweight you may be asked to make lifestyle changes as part of your pain management. The neurologist may suggest several different non-surgical treatments in addition to medication and physical therapy such as hot/cold therapy, exercising, and stretching.

To help control pain for several months the neurologists may give you steroid injections in your back to help relieve the symptoms and swelling around the disk. If a person does not respond to medication and physical therapy they may require surgery to help relieve their symptoms.

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