Herniated Disk

Houston Methodist is a proven leader in treatment of herniated disks. Our board-certified spine specialists have expertise and advanced treatment options to relieve your pain. 

Our spine specialists are leaders in the field, with years of advanced training in treating herniated disks. Houston Methodist offers the full range of treatment options, from therapeutic care to innovative, minimally invasive procedures. 

Also known as a slipped, ruptured or bulging disk, a herniated disk is one of the most common causes of back, neck and leg pain. It occurs when one of the gel-like disks between the bones in your spine (vertebrae) is damaged, causing its contents to bulge or leak and irritate the spinal nerve. Pinpointing the source of your pain and determining the most effective treatment requires expert care. 

Diagnosing & Treating Herniated Disks

How are herniated disks diagnosed?

Diagnosing the source of your pain starts with a thorough physical examination. Your doctor will ask you about your medical history and examine your back to understand your symptoms. In some cases, we may order nerve tests or imaging such as an X-ray, CT scan or MRI to confirm or rule out other conditions. 

Herniated disks usually occur in the lower back and can affect your neck, usually on one side of the body. Symptoms may vary depending on the location of the herniated disk, and patients often report: 


  • Arm or leg weakness  
  • Numbness or tingling that travels down the arm or leg 
  • Pain or tenderness in the back or neck
  • Sharp or shooting pain in the arm or leg that may get worse with sudden movements, such as sneezing or coughing


The most common underlying cause of a herniated disk is aging. As we get older, vertebrae slowly break down and are more likely to tear or rupture with minor straining or twisting. Lifting heavy objects, especially twisting while supporting the weight, can cause a disk to tear or rupture.

Risk factors for herniated disk include:


  • Genetics
  • Obesity, which puts increased stress on the lower back
  • Physically demanding jobs, especially those involving repetitive lifting, pulling or pushing

What treatments are available?

Houston Methodist’s collaborative approach brings together a team of specialists who create a personalized treatment plan for your herniated disk.  

Most cases are relatively mild and can be treated at home with rest, over-the-counter pain medication and heat or ice therapy. Severe cases may require more intensive treatment, including:


  • Integrative therapies, such as acupuncture and massage therapy 
  • Injection-based treatments to address nerve pain, such as epidural steroid injections
  • Physical therapy, such as aquatic therapy, traction, electrical stimulation or bracing
  • Prescription drugs, such as muscle relaxers, cortisone injections or narcotic pain medication


Surgery for a herniated disk is rare but may be recommended if standard treatments aren’t enough to relieve symptoms. Surgery typically involves removing protruding disk material. In extreme cases, the entire disk is removed and replaced by an artificial disk. 

Houston Methodist’s spine surgeons are highly experienced in performing these delicate procedures. Our less invasive approaches reduce surgery risk, speed recovery and help you return to your daily activities. Explore our spine treatment options

I need advanced care or a second opinion.

We understand how difficult it is to live with back pain. Whether you are looking for a diagnosis or a second opinion, we’re here to help. Houston Methodist’s spine experts have the expertise to diagnose the source of your pain and help you find relief. Our compassionate team will design a personalized treatment plan that works for you.

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