A herniated, or slipped, disc occurs when all or part of a disc is forced through a weakened part of the disc. This may place pressure on nearby nerves or the spinal cord.
With herniated disc:
- The disc may move out of place (herniate) or break open (rupture) from injury or strain. When this happens, there may be pressure on the spinal nerves. This can lead to pain, numbness or weakness.
- The lower back (lumbar area) of the spine is the most common area for a slipped disc.
- The neck (cervical) discs are sometimes affected. The upper-to-mid-back (thoracic) discs are rarely involved.
- A herniated disc is one cause of radiculopathy, any disease that affects the spinal nerve roots.
- Slipped discs occur more often in middle-aged and older men, usually after strenuous activity. Other risk factors include conditions present at birth that affect the size of the lumbar spinal canal.
The pain most often occurs on one side of the body.
With a slipped disc in your lower back, you may have sharp pain in one part of the leg, hip or buttocks and numbness in other parts. You may also feel pain or numbness on the back of the calf or sole of the foot. The same leg may also feel weak.
With a slipped disc in your neck, you may have pain when moving your neck, deep pain near or over the shoulder blade or pain that moves to the upper arm, forearm and fingers. You can also have numbness along your shoulder, elbow, forearm and fingers.
The pain often starts slowly. It may get worse:
- After standing or sitting
- At night
- When sneezing, coughing or laughing
- When bending backward or walking more than a few yards
You may also have weakness in certain muscles. Sometimes, you may not notice it until your doctor examines you. In other cases, you will notice that you have a hard time lifting your leg or arm, standing on your toes on one side, squeezing tightly with one of your hands or other problems.
The pain, numbness or weakness often goes away or improves over weeks or months. Surgery may be an option if your symptoms do not go away with other treatments and time.