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. Sometimes called a slipped disc or a ruptured disc, a herniated disc occurs when some of the softer “jelly” pushes out through a tear in the tougher exterior.
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.
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:
When to see a doctor
Seek medical attention if your neck or back pain travels down your arm or leg, or if it’s accompanied by numbness, tingling or weakness.
Disk herniation is most often the result of gradual, aging-related wear and tear called disc degeneration. As you age, your spinal discs lose some of their water content. That makes them less flexible and more prone to tearing or rupturing with even a minor strain or twist.
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.
Factors that increase your risk of a herniated disc may include:
Your spinal cord doesn’t extend into the lower portion of your spinal canal. Just below your waist, the spinal cord separates into a group of long nerve roots (cauda equina) that resemble a horse’s tail. Rarely, disc 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:
To help prevent a herniated disc: