The team at Ohio State’s Comprehensive Spine Center works together with you and pain specialists, physical therapists and surgeons to formulate an individualized treatment plan.
Your backbone, or spine, is made up of 26 bones called vertebrae. In between them are soft discs filled with a jelly-like substance. These discs cushion the vertebrae and keep them in place. As you age, the discs break down or degenerate. As they do, they lose their cushioning ability. This can lead to pain if the back is stressed.
A herniated disc is a disc that ruptures. This allows the jelly-like center of the disc to leak, irritating the nearby nerves. A herniated disc can occur anywhere along your spinal column. If the bulging disc is pressing on a nerve, it will send shooting pains to the area connected to that nerve. A herniated disc in the upper or lower spine could weaken muscle groups in the arm or leg. The upper back discs of the thoracic spine could cause problems to the bladder or bowel, or shooting pains toward one side of the body.
Your doctor will diagnose a herniated disc with a physical exam and, sometimes, imaging tests. With treatment, most people recover. Treatments include rest, anti-inflammatory and pain medicines, physical therapy and sometimes surgery.
Source: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
Why choose Ohio State for treatment of a herniated disc?
Comprehensive Care: The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Comprehensive Spine Center offers multiple treatment options for herniated discs. For the vast majority of patients, surgery is not necessary. But if your quality of life is compromised, our spine surgeons can address the most challenging surgical cases, assisting people who have not found help elsewhere.
Team Approach: With your input, our spine team works together with pain specialists, physical therapists and surgeons to formulate an individualized treatment plan for you.
Physical Therapy Expertise: Our physical therapists specialize in spine conditions, working with you one-on-one to alleviate pain and improve strength and coordination.
Surgical Expertise: If other treatments have failed and you require surgery, we have spine surgeons who are fellowship-trained in complex spine surgeries. We perform more complex spine surgeries than any other medical center in central Ohio.
Research: You will benefit from our involvement in national and international trials that provide you with the most current methods for herniated disc treatment.
Diagnosing Herniated Discs
Following a thorough history, physical and neurological exam, our Comprehensive Spine Center specialists may recommend imaging tests, including:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Electromyography study (EMG), a test that measures the electrical activity of muscles
- Nerve block to identify the specific nerve irritated by a herniated disc
Treating Herniated Discs
Ohio State offers treatments ranging from physical therapy to the most complex neck and spine surgeries. Because 90 percent of herniated discs get better on their own, our specialists explore other options before recommending surgery.
Our spine specialists offer multiple options to increase mobility and reduce pain:
One of Ohio State’s strengths is our physical therapy program, with therapists who specialize in complex, degenerative spine conditions. Following an examination of posture, neck and back mobility, strength and flexibility, our physical therapists customize a plan for you. We take into account any impairments or functional limitations you have. Typically, you will work one on one with a therapist on pain-relieving movement strategies and on improvements in strength and flexibility.
Additional nonsurgical treatments
- Education on neck and back care and recommendations for specific needs (such as job demands, recreational activities, home activities)
- Real-time ultrasound imaging (RUSI) of movement in the spine area to re-train the deep stabilizing musculature of your spine (a highly researched, evidence-based intervention)
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Injection around the nerve that is being irritated by the disc
- Nerve blocks to relieve pain
- Weight loss guidance emphasizing healthier eating and exercise to ease pressure on the spine
- Pilates, yoga and aquatic therapy to strengthen back muscles
- Acupuncture (provided at the Comprehensive Spine Center) or dry needling for pain control through Ohio State’s Center for Integrative Medicine
Minimally invasive surgery
We perform minimally invasive surgery (using small incisions, working through a tube) only if the disc is causing severe weakness, pain that does not improve over time or loss of function or mobility.
Ohio State conducts innovative research in the laboratory, as well as through clinical trials.
Areas of focus include:
Biomechanical Testing: We are doing biomechanical testing to assess the spine before and after surgery. A specialized vest helps us assess your spinal movement and measure the effectiveness of surgery. It ultimately may provide valuable information about which treatment methods will best increase mobility and function of the spine.
Back Pain Consortium: We are members of the International Consortium for Health Outcomes Measurement (ICHOM). Membership in this elite organization allows us to engage with other top U.S. medical centers in global research studies on back pain. As we measure our results against established international standards, we share best practices and elevate our standard of care.