Your spine isn’t one solid piece of bone. It’s actually made up of many small individual bones called vertebrae. Located between each vertebra in the spinal column are small, round, flat discs with a tough outer layer and a soft, jelly-like material on the inside. These discs cushion the vertebrae and act as shock absorbers for the spine.
A herniated disc occurs when one of these discs slips out of place, bulges or is ruptured and is pushed into the spinal canal. A herniated disc can press on spinal nerves, often causing pain, numbness or weakness in an arm or leg. Although herniated discs are more common in the lower back, they can occur anywhere in the spine.
Causes of a herniated disc
Excessive strain or injury may cause a herniated disc, but it can also be the result of aging as the ligaments that hold the disc in place begin to weaken. As the discs degenerate, even a simple twisting movement can cause a disc to become herniated.
Herniated discs can also be hereditary. Some people may be predisposed to herniated discs if they have family members who have also suffered herniated discs.
How to spot a herniated disc
The size of herniation and location of the herniated disc play a big role in the symptoms you might experience if you have a herniated disc. If a herniated disc is not irritating the spinal nerves, symptoms may be as minor as a low backache, or there may be no symptoms at all. When a herniated disc presses on the nerve, there may be pain, numbness or weakness in the area of the body to which that nerve travels.
A herniated disc in the lumbar spine (lower back) can cause sciatic nerve pain, burning, tingling and numbness that radiates from the buttock to the leg and into the foot. Sciatica usually only affects one side (left or right), and is often described as a pain that feels like an electric shock. Pain may be more severe when standing, walking or sitting.
A herniated disc in the cervical spine (neck) may present symptoms including dull or sharp pain in the neck, between the shoulder blades, and/or radiating down the arm to the hand and fingers. Numbness, tingling and weakness may also occur. As with the lumbar spine, pain associated with a herniated disc in the neck may increase with certain positions or movements.
Pain from a slipped or herniated disc can vary from person to person. If you are experiencing pain resulting in numbness or tingling that affects your ability to move and complete routine tasks, contact orthopedic spine surgeon Dr. Vivek Kushwaha today to schedule a consultation.