What is a herniated disc?

A herniated disc is a condition in which the disc between two vertebrae ruptures and the inner central nucleus pops out of the disc and protrudes toward or against the spinal canal, putting pressure on the spinal nerves.

Your back and neck have soft, rubbery discs between every two vertebrae in your spinal column that absorb shock and assist spinal flexibility. Down the center of this spinal column runs the hollow spinal canal, which carries the spinal cord and a bundle of nerve roots. When a disc is herniated, the protrusion usually presses on these nerves. The most common symptoms include weakness, tingling or pain in the shoulders or extremities. Sciatica is a term used to refer to a sharp, shooting pain that runs down the full length of the back of one leg that is often caused by disc disease in the lower back.

Herniated disc occurs most frequently with aging, and most commonly occurs in the lumbar, or lower, spine. With proper treatment, usually a combination of pain medication and physical therapy, a herniated disc can resolve within four to six weeks.

Herniated disc is not life threatening, but in some cases it can lead to nerve damage that can be permanently debilitating. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms of nerve compression, such as loss of sensation in the limbs or shoulders, a complete loss of balance, or loss of bladder or bowel control (especially in combination with weakness in your legs). Also seek immediate care for abnormal sensations, weakness, or numbness in the shoulders or extremities on one side of your body.

Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for herniated disc but mild symptoms recur or are persistent.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of a herniated disc?

Symptoms of herniated disc include lower back pain, especially when bending forward; sciatica, a shooting pain down the full extent of the back of one leg; muscle weakness in one limb; pain, numbness, tingling, or an abnormal sensation in one shoulder, limb or buttock; and neck pain.... Read more about herniated discsymptoms

CAUSES

What causes a herniated disc?

A herniated disc occurs when the disc between two vertebrae ruptures and its inner central nucleus pops out, causing the disc to protrude toward or against the spinal canal and put pressure on the spinal nerves. While this is usually caused by a disc drying out and degenerating during the aging process, it can also be caused by improper physical movement.... Read more about herniated disccauses

TREATMENTS

How is a herniated disc treated?

Nonsurgical treatments are effective in most cases. These involve the use of muscle relaxant drugs, analgesics, and anti-inflammatory medications, as well as modifying or eliminating some activities until you are healed.... Read more about herniated disctreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Brain and Nerves