A herniated disc (also known as a slipped or ruptured disc) is a disc nucleus fragment that has been pushed out of the annulus and into the spinal canal or intervertebral foramen due to a tear or rupture in the annulus. Herniated discs are usually in the early stages of degeneration. The space available in the spinal canal is not sufficient to accommodate the spinal nerve and the displaced herniated disc fragment. The disc presses on spinal nerves because of this displacement, causing pain that can be severe. Herniated discs can appear anywhere along the spine. Herniated discs most commonly affect the lower back (lumbar spine), but they can also affect the neck (cervical spine).
A herniated disc can be caused by a single severe strain or injury. However, as one gets older, disc material degrades and the ligaments that keep it in place weaken. A little strain or twisting action can cause a disc to rupture as the degeneration advances. Some people can be more prone to disc problems and may have herniated discs in multiple places along their spine. According to research, there also may be a herniated disc predisposition in families with multiple members who are affected.
The symptoms of a herniated disc vary widely depending on the location and size of the herniation. If it is pushing on a nerve, the area of the body where the nerve travels may experience pain, numbness, or weakness. Neck pain with pain into the trapezius and/or down the arms as well as low back pain or a long history of sporadic episodes of low back pain are common symptoms of a herniated disc.
- Lumbar Spine (Lower Back): Herniated discs in the lower back commonly cause sciatica/radiculopathy. Pressure on one or more of the nerves that contribute to the sciatic nerve can produce pain, burning, tingling, and numbness. These symptoms can travel from the buttock down the leg and sometimes into the foot.
- Cervical Spine (Neck): The symptoms of cervical radiculopathy are caused by nerve compression in the neck. Pain in the neck, between the shoulder blades, and pain radiating down the arm to the hand or fingers are possible symptoms. Numbness or tingling in the shoulders, arms and hands/fingers may also occur.