How is a Herniated Disc Diagnosed

Diagnosing a Herniated Disc

Back pain can be caused by so many things, this is why when you have back pain that is lasting more than a week you should always see a doctor. To correctly diagnosis back pain your doctor will perform a physical examination and they may also review your medical history to see if there is anything in your history that may point to the cause of your back pain. If they feel that you may have a herniated disc but it is not conclusive they will order diagnostic tests be done.

Two of the more popular types of tests that are used to diagnosis a herniated discs are the following:


While the most commonly used diagnostic test is an X-ray, many times this test is not able to give a definitive diagnosis. When this happens your doctor may try an MRI, this being the gold standard for tests when dealing with back pain. An MRI would use magnetic fields, computers, and radio waves to create a highly detailed image of the muscles, ligaments, organs, discs, and other parts of the spine.

CT scan

A CT scan is another popular test that can be used to diagnose back pain. With this test a powerful computer and X-ray machine is used to create a three dimensional image of the spine. So instead of taking just one picture of an area like a normal X-ray with a CT scan pictures are taken all around the body and to create a more detailed view or the spine.

Types of Herniated Discs

There are four different types of herniated discs; they are a bulging, prolapsed, extruded, and sequestered disc. Keep in mind though that it is possible to jump right to some of the more damaged discs right away depending on what caused your disc become injured.

Bulging disc

With a bulging disc it is extremely rare for it to cause any symptoms; oftentimes those with a simple bulging disc do not even know that they have them. When you have a bulging disc what happens is a small bulge would appear on the outside of your disc. This bulge is still contained inside the disc and there is no tear or crack in the disc and since this bulge is so tiny it may not even compress or bother any of the surrounding tissues, nerves, or spinal cord.

Prolapsed Disc

This is the next stage for a bulging disc and also when you may start to notice symptoms such as pain, numbness and tingling on your skin. With a prolapsed disc your bugle is now larger in size but would still be contained inside the disc itself. Since this bulge is now larger in size it is more likely to cause problems.

Disc Extrusion

With a disc extrusion your bulge has now broken through the surface of your disc and the soft gel center is leaking out and into the spinal canal spaces. If enough of this material is no longer inside your disc it may begin to compress the surrounding tissues, spinal cord, or spinal nerves.

Sequestered Disc

This would be the very last stage of a herniated disc. With a sequestered disc what happens is, a piece or pieces of the leaking material has broken off the main part of your disc and is now floating around in the spinal canal. At this point it is possible for you to feel less pain as the free floating material may no longer be compressing your nerves or spinal cord.