Herniated Disc

Herniated disc
A herniated disc can occur in the cervical spine (neck) or lumbar spine (lower back). At right: The top disc has herniated, or "slipped", and is pressing on a nerve. A normal disc is shown at bottom.

A herniated disc, also called a slipped disc or ruptured disc, is the result of a tear in the outer layer of a disc which acts as a shock absorber for the spine. It can happen in any part of the spine, but is most common in the lumbar (lower back) or cervical (neck) regions of the spine. It’s a common occurrence in all ages, and happens in men, women, and children.

The spine is made up of stacked bones called vertebrae. In between each of the vertebrae is a small disc that acts as a shock absorber. These discs are a little like jelly doughnuts in that each has a soft, gluey interior (called a nucleus) that is protected by a firm outer layer (called an annulus).

A herniated disc happens when the nucleus is pushed out of the annulus through a rupture, or tear. The “slipped” disc presses on the nerves in the spine, causing pain that can be quite severe. Sometimes the surrounding nerves can also become irritated, causing pain, numbness, or weakness in the arms and legs.

What Causes a Herniated Disc?
Herniated discs can occur from excessive strain or injury, or degeneration due to age. However, slipped discs can be prevented, and the risk of recurrence can be reduced, by following these prevention tips:

Prevention Tips
The following preventive measures can help prevent herniated discs, or keep them from recurring :

  • Strengthen the abdominal muscles to support the back and improve posture. Exercises to strengthen the abs include crunches, variations of sit-ups, and other exercises to provide more spine stability. (See the exercises in our Guide to a Better Back.)
  • Use proper form when lifting (ie, lift from the knees).
  • Avoid stress, which can cause back tension.
  • Keep your weight at a healthy level. Extra pounds can put pressure and strain on the back.


Most patients with a herniated disc will make a full recovery after treatment (see Diagnosing and Treating a Herniated Disc).

Request an Appointment | Refer a Patient

Dr. Roger Hartl: Cervical Herniated Disc / Radiculopathy

Dr. Roger Härtl: Cervical Herniated Disc and Radiculopathy
Imagine being a young, healthy, active woman, a Manhattanite who runs half marathons, travels the world, and spends holidays indulging a passion for boating and kayaking. The occasional twinge of back pain is merely a nuisance. Until, one day, you...
Neurosurgeons by definition have many difficult conversations with their patients. We review scans together and tell them, as gently as we can, that they have a tumor, have had a stroke, or have any one of a number of other conditions that affect...

Our Care Team

  • Hansen-MacDonald Professor of Neurological Surgery
  • Director of Spinal Surgery
Phone: 212-746-2152
  • Associate Professor of Neurological Surgery, Spinal Surgery
  • Co-Director, Spinal Deformity and Scoliosis Program
  • Chief of Neurological Surgery, NYP Lower Manhattan
Phone: 212-746-2260
  • Assistant Professor, Neurosurgery 
Phone: (888) 922-2257
  • Orthopedic Surgeon
  • Director, Orthopedic Spine Surgery
Phone: 212-746-1164
  • Assistant Professor of Neurological Surgery, Spine Surgery
Phone: 718-670-1837 (Queens) / 888-922-2257 (Manhattan)
  • Clinical Associate Professor of Neurosurgery
  • Attending Neurosurgeon
Phone: 888-922-2257
  • Chief of Neurological Surgery, NewYork-Presbyterian Queens
Phone: (718) 670-1837
  • Orthopedic Surgeon
  • Director, Orthopedic Spine Surgery
Phone: 212-746-1164
  • Assistant Professor of Neurological Surgery
Phone: 646-962-3388
  • Assistant Professor of Neurological Surgery
Phone: 866-426-7787 (Manhattan) / 646-967-2020 (Brooklyn)

Reviewed by: Eric Elowitz, MD
Last reviewed/last updated: September 2020
Illustration by Thom Graves, CMI

Weill Cornell Medicine Brain & Spine Center 525 East 68 Street, Box 99 New York, NY 10065 Phone: 866-426-7787