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.You can have a herniated disc in any part of your spine. But most herniated discs affect the lower back (lumbar spine). Some happen in the neck (cervical spine) and, more rarely, in the upper back (thoracic spine). This topic focuses mainly on the lower back.
A herniated disc may be caused by wear and tear of the disc. As you age, your discs dry out and aren’t as flexible. It can also be caused by an injury to the spine. This may cause tiny tears or cracks in the hard outer layer of the disc. When this happens, the gel inside the disc can be forced out through the tears or cracks in the outer layer of the disc. This causes the disc to bulge, break open, or break into pieces.
Symptoms of a herniated disc vary greatly depending on the position of the herniated disc and the size of the herniation. If the herniated disc is:
- Not pressing on a nerve, you may have an ache in the low back or no symptoms at all.
- Pressing on a nerve, you may have pain, numbness, or weakness in the area of your body to which the nerve travels.
- With herniation in the lower (lumbar) back, sciatica may develop. Sciatica is pain that travels through the buttocks and down a leg to the ankle or foot because of pressure on the sciatic nerve. Low back pain may accompany the leg pain.
- With herniation in the upper part of the lumbar spine, near the end of the lowest ribs, you may have pain in the front of the thigh.
- With herniation in the neck (cervical spine), you may have pain or numbness in the shoulders, arms, or chest.
Initial treatment may involve physical therapy, Chiropractic treatment and anti inflammatory pain medications. Later trigger point injections and epidural injections may be considered.