Ruptured disc

Synonyms: Herniated disc, Slipped disc

Medical Specialties: Family practice, Orthopedics, Physical medicine & rehab

Clinical Definition

A ruptured disc may develop when there is deterioration of the annulus, which is the fibrocartilaginous material that surrounds the intervertebral disc. Continued damage or deterioration to the annulus may cause a rupture of the nucleus pulposus from its normal space and force it outward. When this occurs, pressure is placed on the spinal nerve, causing pain.  

In Our Own Words

In between each vertebra in the spine is a disc that acts as a cushion. Each disc is made up of two parts. The outer ring of the disc is a ligament connecting the vertebrae called the annulus. The center of each disc contains a soft, gelatinous material referred to as the nucleus pulposus.


A ruptured disc occurs when the annulus experiences continuous damage, causing the nucleus pulposus to burst out of its space. This in turn increases pressure on the spine’s nerves. When the disc is located in the lower back (the most typical site), back and leg pain also may result.

Relevant Conditions
Side Effects
  • Pain in one or both legs
  • Leg numbness
  • Muscle weakness in the legs
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  • University of Maryland Medical Center. “Lumbar Herniated Disc.” Updated July 2013. Accessed September 2013.
  • The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Herniated Disc.” Accessed September 2013.
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