The bones (vertebrae) that form the spine in your back are cushioned by small, spongy discs. When these discs are healthy, they act as shock absorbers for the spine and keep the spine flexible. But when a disc is damaged, it may bulge or break open. This is called a herniated disc. It may also be called a slipped or ruptured disc.
When a herniated disc presses on nerve roots, it can cause pain, numbness, and weakness in the area of the body where the nerve travels. A herniated disc in the lower back can cause pain and numbness in the buttock and down the leg. This is called sciatica (say “sy-AT-ih-kuh”). Sciatica is the most common symptom of a herniated disc in the low back.
If a herniated disc is not pressing on a nerve, you may have a backache or no pain at all.
If you have weakness or numbness in both legs, along with loss of bladder or bowel control, seek medical care right away. This could be a sign of a rare but serious problem called cauda equina syndrome.
Symptoms from a herniated disc usually get better in a few weeks or months. To help you recover:
- Rest if you have severe pain. Otherwise, stay active. Staying in bed for more than 1 or 2 days can weaken your muscles and make the problem worse. Walking and other light activity may help.
- Try using a heating pad on a low or medium setting, or a warm shower, for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 or 3 hours. You can also try an ice pack for 10 to 15 minutes every 2 to 3 hours.
- Do the exercises that your doctor or physical therapist suggests. These will help keep your back muscles strong and prevent another injury.
- Ask your doctor about medicine to treat your symptoms. Medicine won’t cure a herniated disc, but it may help with pain and swelling.