How a Herniated Disc is Diagnosed

May 7th 2016

Physical Examination

Your primary care physician first gives you a thorough physical examination. During the exam, your doctor may feel your back for any tenderness or swelling. The physician could ask you to lie flat on your back and move your legs and arms to ascertain any limitations. He may ask if you feel any pain, numbness, weakness or limits on your range of motion.

Neurological Examination

A neurological examination tests your reflexes, muscle strength, walking ability and sense of touch. Your doctor may see if you can feel vibrations, pinpricks and lightweight touches to the skin. This type of test determines how well your nervous system responds to stimuli. Your physician might tap a small, rubber hammer against your knees, wrists and elbows to judge how your nervous system reacts to pressure on those points.

Medical History

Your doctor also goes over your medical history as part of the initial diagnosis procedure. He could ask when back pain started, how the pain feels and what activities you have done recently. The physician also asks what positions make your pain feel better. You should tell your physician if any family members have had back pain or back problems in the past, such as sciatica.

Imaging Tests

A doctor usually needs just a physical exam and medical history to diagnose a herniated disc. However, your physician may need more information to make sure the pain is not caused by other conditions. An X-ray can rule out an infection, a tumor, broken bones or spinal alignment issues. A computerized tomography scan views your spine from several angles to create a cross section of your vertebrae so your doctor can see them better. Magnetic resonance imaging pinpoints the location of the herniated disc so the doctor can see any pinched nerves. A myelogram can detect the pressure a disc puts on your nerves by taking X-ray photographs with the help of dye injected into your spinal fluid.


A herniated disc occurs when gel-like material found in between vertebrae in the back slips out of place and swells. This slipped disc may cause pain on nerves that radiates out from the spine and into other parts of your body such as the arms and legs. A herniated disc diagnosis then leads to the proper treatment as recommended by your primary care physician or a specialist. Discover how doctors diagnose a herniated disc with this handy guide.

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