A herniated disk refers to a condition where one of the cushions (disks) located between the stacked bones (vertebrae) in your spine experiences an issue.
The spinal disk consists of a soft, jellylike center (nucleus) surrounded by a tougher, rubbery outer layer (annulus). Sometimes referred to as a slipped disk or ruptured disk, a herniated disk occurs when some of the nucleus protrudes through a tear in the annulus.
While a herniated disk can develop in any part of the spine, it commonly affects the lower back. Depending on the location of the herniated disk, it can cause pain, numbness, or weakness in an arm or leg.
Many individuals with a herniated disk do not experience any symptoms. For those who do, the symptoms often improve over time. Surgery is typically not necessary to alleviate the issue.
The majority of herniated disks occur in the lower back, although they can also manifest in the neck. The signs and symptoms experienced depend on the location of the disk and whether it is exerting pressure on a nerve. Herniated disks typically impact one side of the body.
- Pain in the arm or leg: If the herniated disk is in the lower back, in addition to experiencing lower back pain, you will likely feel pain in the buttocks, thigh, and calf. Pain may also be present in certain areas of the foot.
In the case of a herniated disk in the neck, the most intense pain is typically felt in the shoulder and arm. This pain may radiate down the arm or leg when coughing, sneezing, or assuming specific positions. The pain is often described as sharp or burning.
- Numbness or tingling: Individuals with a herniated disk frequently experience tingling or numbness that radiates to the body part served by the affected nerves.
- Weakness: The muscles supplied by the affected nerves tend to weaken. This can result in stumbling or affect your ability to lift or hold objects.
It is possible to have a herniated disk without any symptoms. You may be unaware of its presence unless it is detected through a spinal imaging test.
The primary cause of disk herniation is typically a gradual degeneration associated with aging, leading to wear and tear on the disks. As individuals get older, the disks become less flexible and more susceptible to tearing or rupturing, even with minor strains or twists.
Many individuals are unable to identify the specific cause of their herniated disk. However, certain actions, such as using the muscles in the back instead of the leg and thigh muscles when lifting heavy objects, can contribute to its development. Similarly, twisting and turning while lifting can also be a contributing factor. In rare cases, a traumatic event such as a fall or a direct blow to the back can be the cause of a herniated disk.