What is a herniated disc?
A disk herniates or ruptures when part of the jelly-like center pushes through the outer edge of the disk and back toward the spinal canal. When a herniated disc bulges out toward the spinal canal, it puts pressure on the spinal nerves, causing pain. This condition most often occurs in the lower back, as well as the smaller disks in the neck.
Although a herniated disk can sometimes be very painful, most people feel much better with just a few months of simple, nonsurgical treatments.
How does it happen?
In many cases, a herniated disk is related to the natural aging of your spine. Another cause is also due to wear and tear or a sudden injury.
Who is at risk for a herniated disk?
In children and young adults, disks have high water content. As people age, the water content in the disks decreases and the disks become less flexible. The disks begin to shrink and the spaces between the vertebrae get narrower. Conditions that can weaken the disk include:
- Improper lifting
- Excessive body weight that places added stress on the disks (in the lower back)
- Traumatic injury
- Repetitive strenuous activities
What are the symptoms of a herniated disc?
Low back pain affects many people. Pain alone is not enough to recognize a herniated disk. See your doctor if back pain results from a fall or a blow to your back. The most common symptom of a herniated disk is sciatica—a sharp, often shooting pain that extends from the buttocks down the back of one leg. It is caused by pressure on the spinal nerve. Other symptoms include:
- Back pain
- Weakness in the leg and/or foot
- Tingling (a “pins-and-needles” sensation) or numbness in the leg and/or foot
- Loss of bladder or bowel control (This is rare and may indicate a more serious problem called cauda equina syndrome. This condition is caused by the spinal nerve roots being compressed. It requires immediate medical attention.)
As with pain in the lower back, neck pain is also common. When pressure is placed on a nerve in the neck, it causes pain in the muscles between your neck and shoulder (trapezius muscles). The pain may shoot down the arm. Other symptoms include:
- Weakness in one arm
- Tingling (a “pins-and-needles” sensation) or numbness in one arm
- Burning pain in the shoulders, neck, or arm