A herniated disc refers to a problem with one of the rubbery cushions (discs) between the individual bones (vertebrae) that stack up to make your spine.
A spinal disc is a little like a jelly donut, with a softer center encased within a tougher exterior. As the spinal disc becomes less elastic, it can rupture. When the disc ruptures, a portion of the spinal disc which is pushes outside its normal boundary –this is called a herniated disc. When a herniated disc bulges out from between the vertebrae, the spinal nerves and spinal cord can become pinched. There is normally a little extra space around the spinal cord and spinal nerves, but if enough of the herniated disc is pushed out of place, then these structures may be compressed
A herniated disc can irritate nearby nerves and result in pain, numbness or weakness in an arm or leg. On the other hand, many people experience no symptoms from a herniated disc. Most people who have a herniated disc don’t need surgery to correct the problem.
Disc herniation is most often the result of a gradual, aging-related wear and tear called disc degeneration. As you age, your spinal discs lose some of their water content.
Most people can’t pinpoint the exact cause of their herniated disc. Sometimes, using your back muscles instead of your leg and thigh muscles to lift large, heavy objects can lead to a herniated disc, as can twisting and turning while lifting. Rarely, a traumatic event such as a fall or a blow to the back can cause a herniated disc.
Disc herniation is more common in middle age (35-45), excess body weight, or people with demanding jobs involving repetitive lifting, pulling, bending and twisting.
Herniated discs sometimes show up on spinal images of people who have no symptoms of a disc problem. The location of your symptoms may vary, depending on where the herniated disc is located along your spine. Most herniated discs occur in your lower back (lumbar spine), although they can also occur in your neck (cervical spine).
The most common signs and symptoms of a herniated disc are:
Arm or leg pain- If your herniated disc is in your lower back, you’ll typically feel the most intense pain in your buttocks, thigh and leg below the knee. It may also involve part of the foot. If your herniated disc is in your neck, the pain will typically be most intense in the shoulder and arm. This pain may shoot into your arm or leg when you cough, sneeze or move your spine into certain positions.
Numbness or tingling- People who have a herniated disc often experience numbness or tingling in the body part served by the affected nerves.
Weakness- Muscles served by the affected nerves tend to weaken. This may cause you to stumble, or impair your ability to lift or hold items.
Rarely, disk herniation can compress the entire cauda equina. Emergency surgery may be required to avoid permanent weakness or paralysis.
Seek emergency medical attention if you have:
Worsening symptoms. Pain, numbness or weakness may increase to the point that you can’t perform your usual daily activities.
Bladder or bowel dysfunction. People who have the cauda equina syndrome may become incontinent or have difficulty urinating even with a full bladder.
Saddle anesthesia. This progressive loss of sensation affects the areas that would touch a saddle — the inner thighs, back of legs and the area around the rectum.