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Understanding the Difference Between a Herniated Cervical Disc and Lumbar Herniated Disc

Herniated discs are one of the most common causes of back pain. Your back consists of 33 bones, with a cushioning spinal disc between each one. When a disc slips out of place or ruptures, it’s known as a herniated disc.

Not everyone who has a herniated disc experiences symptoms. But if you’re bothered by pain, tingling, or numbness, it’s time to learn more about herniated discs. 

A damaged disc can press on nerves in your spine, causing pain in your back, arms, or legs. Where you feel the pain and notice symptoms depend on where the herniated disc is located along your spine. Cervical herniated discs develop in your neck, while lumbar herniated discs are in your lower back.

Offering a range of solutions from conservative therapy to spine surgery, George Kakoulides, MD is here to help you find relief from your pain. The symptoms and severity of your herniated disc might vary, but treatment can minimize your pain and help your spine heal.

Herniated discs explained

Spinal discs are made of tough, rubbery fibers. They stack between your vertebral bones, cushioning your spine as you bend and move. The discs are strong on the outside, but they have a jelly-like nucleus in the center.

If a disc gets weak or damaged, the nucleus can bulge out and cause the disc to get herniated. The bulge can compress nerves inside your spinal canal, causing pain, tingling, and other symptoms.

The most common cause of herniated discs is age-related wear and tear. Over the years, discs begin drying out. They can shrink and stiffen, making herniated discs more likely to occur. In rarer cases, discs can herniate as a result of an accident or injury.

While the condition itself is often the same no matter where it's located in your spine, the symptoms you experience can vary significantly. The biggest difference between cervical herniated discs and lumbar herniated discs are the symptoms and location of your pain.

Symptoms of a cervical herniated disc

A cervical herniated disc is located within the top seven vertebrae in your neck or the cervical spine. When a disc in your neck wears down or gets damaged, it can start to press on nerves connecting your neck to your head and arms.

Signs of a cervical herniated disc may include:

Pain from a cervical herniated disc is generally contained to your neck, head, and arms. If you’re suffering nerve pain or other symptoms in your lower body, it might be a lumbar herniated disc.

Symptoms of a lumbar herniated disc

The lumbar spine has five vertebrae and it’s located at the base of your back. Herniated discs in the lumbar spine can cause lower back pain and symptoms may spread to your legs and feet.

Signs of a lumbar herniated disc include:

In some cases, a lumbar disc may flatten completely and cause spinal instability. If you suffer a loss of bladder or bowel control along with back or leg pain, seek immediate medical care. Severe nerve damage may require surgery to prevent permanent neurological complications. 

You don’t have to live with back or nerve pain caused by a herniated disc. If any of these symptoms sound familiar, schedule an appointment with Dr. Kakoulides. He specializes in comprehensive evaluations to diagnose your condition, providing tailored solutions for your pain without overprescribing unnecessary treatments.

Contact one of our locations in Huntington, Smithtown, or West Islip, New York, to book your appointment today.

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