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Herniated nucleus pulposus

Definition of herniated nucleus pulposus

A herniated nucleus pulposus (HNP) is the medical term used to describe what most people refer to as a herniated disc — a disc that has developed a tear in its outer wall, called the annulus fibrosus, allowing its inner core to leak into the spinal canal.

Diagnosing a herniated nucleus pulposus

If you are experiencing sudden, unexplained back pain that has persisted for more than a few days, you will need to consult with a physician who can pinpoint the cause of your pain. For patients with a herniated nucleus pulposus, a diagnosis usually begins by answering your physician’s questions about your symptoms and medical history. You will also likely be asked to get an X-ray, CT scan or MRI, which will provide a closer look of your spine to confirm your herniated nucleus pulposus diagnosis, as well as identify the exact disc that has herniated.

Causes of a herniated nucleus pulposus

Degeneration caused by aging and overuse is by far the most common cause of a herniated nucleus pulposus. Degenerative changes such as dehydration, loss of elasticity and reduced blood supply make spinal discs more susceptible to damage. It is important to note that aging affects everyone differently, and certain lifestyle factors such as tobacco use, participation in high-impact sports and poor posture can cause spinal discs to degenerate at a faster rate.

Symptoms of a herniated nucleus pulposus

A herniated nucleus pulposus does not always lead to symptoms, but when it does, the symptoms have two main causes. A disc’s annulus fibrosus contains local nerve endings, so the tear in and of itself may cause minor, localized pain. Additionally, the nucleus pulposus material can trigger an inflammatory response in the annulus fibrosus, which can also lead to mild discomfort.

The second cause of herniated nucleus pulposus symptoms is nerve compression, which occurs if the leaking material from the nucleus pulposus compresses a nerve root or the spinal cord. The symptoms of nerve compression from a herniated nucleus pulposus can range from mild to debilitating, and may include localized and radiating pain, numbness and tingling in the extremities and muscle weakness.

Treatment for a herniated nucleus pulposus

For most, treatment for a herniated nucleus pulposus involves a combination of conservative treatments aimed at controlling symptoms, rather than addressing the affected disc itself. Common herniated nucleus pulposus treatments include pain and anti-inflammatory medication, corticosteroid injections, physical therapy, hot/cold therapy and low-impact exercise.

Surgery for a herniated nucleus pulposus

Surgery for a herniated nucleus pulposus is generally only recommended in the event that several weeks or months of conservative treatment has failed to relieve a patient’s symptoms. If you live in the Tampa, Florida, area and find yourself in this position, consult with the experts at Laser Spine Institute before subjecting yourself to traditional open spine surgery.

Our minimally invasive, outpatient spine surgery is performed as an alternative to these highly invasive procedures, and offer many advantages to patients. For example, our procedures offer less surgical blood loss, reduced risk of infection and shorter recovery time^ compared to traditional open neck or back surgery and we also have a 98 patient satisfaction rate. If you would like to find out if you are a potential candidate for our procedures, contact Laser Spine Institute today and our dedicated team will review* your MRI at no cost.