A herniated or “slipped” disc is a common injury that can affect any part of the spine. A herniated disc can cause severe back pain and other problems in the arms or legs. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, approximately one in every fifty people will experience a herniated disc at some point in their life. Of these, 10% to 25% have symptoms that last more than six weeks.
Vertebral discs are flexible, rubbery cushions that support the vertebral bones. Each disc has a jelly-like center (nucleus) that is surrounded by a tough outer ring (annulus). A disc herniates when its nucleus pushes against the outer ring and puts pressure on the sensitive spinal nerves, causing back pain. Because a herniated disc in the low back often puts pressure on the nerve root leading to the leg and foot, pain often occurs in the buttock and down the leg. This is called sciatica.
Some herniated discs cause no symptoms, and a person may not realize the disc is damaged. But a herniated disc can also cause severe back pain, numbness or tingling, and weakness. Most herniated discs occur in the lower back, where they can cause symptoms in the buttocks, legs, and feet. Herniated discs also occur in the neck, where they can cause symptoms in the shoulders, arms, and hands.
Causes and Risk Factors
A herniated disc often occurs with lifting, pulling, bending, or twisting movements. They can also result from age-related weakening of the spinal discs. This is called disc degeneration, and it can occur gradually over many years as a result of normal wear and tear on the spine.
A herniated disc may first be treated with pain-relieving medications, muscle relaxers, corticosteroid injections, or physical therapy. Your neurosurgeon may recommend lumbar microdiscectomy, one of the most common surgeries to alleviate back pain from ruptured, slipped, or bulging disks, if other treatment methods have been tried and failed.