Discs in the spine are the rubbery cushions between the vertebrae. A disc is like a cream-filled doughnut with its tough exterior and soft interior. If the tough exterior cracks and some of the interior escapes through that crack, the disc is considered herniated. The herniation can irritate the neighboring nerves, resulting in pain, weakness, and numbness in an arm or leg. Some people have no symptoms at all, and surgery isn’t always needed to correct the issue.
Herniated Disc Symptoms
Anywhere along the spine from your neck to your lower back can have a herniated disc. The lower back is the most common area of the spine to experience this. Symptoms of a herniated disc include:
- Pain and numbness, possibly on one side of the body
- Pain that gets worse with certain movements or at night
- Pain that shoots through the arms or down the legs
- Aching, tingling, or burning sensation in the affected area
- Muscle weakness
- Pain when walking even the shortest distances
The symptoms can vary from person to person, so it is important to seek medical attention as soon as symptoms are experienced. If a herniated disc is left untreated, permanent nerve damage can result. In rare cases, a slipped disc can interrupt nerve impulses to the lower back’s cauda equina nerves and even cause issues in the legs. A person can lose bowel or bladder control as a result.
Causes of Herniated Discs
A herniated disc occurs when the outside of the disc becomes weak or tears. This is more common with age. Certain movements may also cause a disc to herniate. For instance, you may twist while picking up an object. Lifting can put a lot of strain on the back anyway, so twisting at the same time can cause a very painful situation. If you are involved in physically demanding activities, you are at an increased risk for a herniated disc.
Overweight individuals can also easily herniate discs in their back because the additional weight that is put on their back muscles. If a person has a sedentary lifestyle, his or her back muscles are going to be weaker than the muscles of someone who is more active. Again, age can be a factor.
Herniated Disc Diagnosis
When you start having symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor for a physical exam. The source of the pain will be sought out, which will involve checking muscle strength and nerve function. You may also be asked to move certain ways and the affected area will be touched. The doctor will take a medical history and may perform x-rays, MRI scans, CT scans, or discograms.
The appropriate treatment will be determined. This is important since the ultimate complication of a herniated disc is saddle anesthesia, which is where sensation is lost in the backs of the legs, the inner thighs, and around the rectum. While the symptoms can improve, there is also the chance that they will worsen. If you find that you can’t perform activities like you used to, it’s time to seek medical attention.