Wake up with a pain pulsating down one leg? Feel a twinge in your lower back when you sneeze? It could be nothing. Then again, it could be a herniated disc. We’re breaking down the herniated disc symptoms so you’ll know what to look for—and what to do about it.
What is a herniated disc?
Spinal discs rest between each of the vertebrae that form the spine. In the center of each of those discs is a jelly-like substance that acts as a cushion. As we age, that cushion can be impacted, causing a herniated disc. Herniated discs are also referred to as protruding, bulging disc and ruptured disks.
“A disc begins to herniate when its jelly-like nucleus pushes against its outer ring due to wear and tear or a sudden injury. This pressure against the outer ring may cause lower back pain,” said the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). “In a herniated disk…the center of the disk can push all the way through the outer ring. If the pressure continues, the jelly-like nucleus may push all the way through disk’s outer ring or cause the ring to bulge. This puts pressure on the spinal cord and nearby nerve roots. In addition, the disk material releases chemical irritants that contribute to nerve inflammation. When a nerve root is irritated, there may be pain, numbness, and weakness in one or both of your legs, a condition called ‘sciatica.’”
Does a herniated disc only affect the back?
“You can have a slipped disc in any part of your spine, from your neck to your lower back,” said Healthline. “The lower back is one of the more common areas for slipped discs. Your spinal column is an intricate network of nerves and blood vessels. A slipped disc can place extra pressure on the nerves and muscles around it.”
How to Know If You Have Herniated Disc Symptoms
Symptoms of a herniated disk in the back are different from person to person. The amount of pain you feel is also impacted by the precise location of the herniation, and how large it is. “Symptoms vary greatly, depending on the position of the herniated disc and the size of the herniation,” said the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS). “If the herniated disc is not pressing on a nerve, the patient may experience a low backache or no pain at all. If it is pressing on a nerve, there may be pain, numbness or weakness in the area of the body to which the nerve travels. Typically, a herniated disc is preceded by an episode of low back pain or a long history of intermittent episodes of low back pain.”
The Most Common Herniated Disc Symptoms Include the Following
- Pain and/or numbness, which is often localized on one side of the body
- Pain that keeps you from being able to comfortably walk even short distances
- Tingling, burning sensations, or aching in the lower back
- Severe muscle weakness
- Sciatica—”Pressure on one or several nerves that contribute to the sciatic nerve can cause pain, burning, tingling and numbness that radiates from the buttock into the leg and sometimes into the foot,” said the AANS. “Usually one side (left or right) is affected. This pain often is described as sharp and electric shock-like. It may be more severe with standing, walking or sitting. Straightening the leg on the affected side can often make the pain worse. Along with leg pain, one may experience low back pain; however, for acute sciatica the pain in the leg is often worse than the pain in the low back.”
It’s also important to note that pain from a herniated disc may not be constant. It tends to worsen “when you’re being active and lessens when you’re resting,” said WebMD. “Even coughing, sneezing, and sitting can worsen your symptoms because they put pressure on pinched nerves.”
Treatment for a Herniated Disc
“Although a herniated disk can be very painful, most people feel much better with just a few weeks or months of nonsurgical treatment,” said the AAOS.
That may include medication to control the inflammation, a combination of heat and cold, injections, and physical therapy. If there is still not sufficient relief, a minimally invasive back surgery called discectomy may help.
During this surgery for herniated disc, part of the disc is removed. Minimally invasive discectomy is an outpatient procedure performed through a small incision. Patients generally walk out within an hour after the short procedure.
“This procedure leaves 90% of the disc intact,” said the DISC Spine Institute, a leader in minimally invasive surgical procedures. “It only removes the piece of disc that is applying pressure to the nerve and which is causing the symptoms. The procedure has minimal blood loss, is outpatient and has a suture-less tiny incision.”
If you’re ready to put an end to your pain or if you want more information about treatment options, contact the DISC Spine Institute, experts in minimally invasive treatments, the most effective medical procedures to treat and eliminate chronic back pain. Today’s minimally invasive procedures include outpatient treatments and easier surgical treatments with small incisions and a quicker recovery time instead of a long hospital stay.