The term herniated disc sounds like a painful condition—and, unfortunately, it usually is. Our spine is made up of tiny individual bones (called vertebrae). Between each bone is a rubbery cushion (called a disc) that stops the bones from rubbing against one another. However, if one of the discs slips out of place or prolapses, it is known as a herniated disc. It can cause symptoms like pain, numbness, and weakness in the arms or legs1.
Here are a few things to know about herniated discs.
1- Most herniated discs occur in the lower back region and usually affects men more than women
In theory, a herniated disk can occur anywhere along your spinal column but the vast majority tend to originate in the lower back region (lumbar spine). Herniated discs are also more common in those aged between 30 and 50 and for reasons that still remain unknown, they affect twice as many men as women2.
2- Signs and symptoms of a herniated disc
The most common signs and symptoms of a herniated disk include1:
- Arm or leg pain – If a herniated disk is in your lower back you’ll typically feel the most intense pain in your buttocks, thighs, and calf muscles. It may also involve part of the foot.
- Numbness or tingling – People who have a herniated disk often experience numbness or tingling in the area of the affected nerves which is usually the lower legs.
- Muscle Weakness – The muscles served by the affected nerves tend to weaken which can cause you to stumble or affect lower leg movements.
- Pain that worsens at night
If you notice any of these symptoms, particularly numbness, tingling or weakness in the arms or legs then be sure to see your doctor right away. An untreated, severe slipped disk can lead to permanent nerve damage.
3- What causes a herniated disc
A disk herniation is most often the result of gradual, age-related wear and tear (also called disk degeneration)1. As we age, our spinal discs lose some of their water content which makes them less flexible and more susceptible to tearing, rupture, or damage. Even a minor strain or twist can cause a disc herniation. That’s why it’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible if you notice any symptoms above.
4- Tips to prevent a herniated disc before it happens
As with all the joints in our body, we can take preventative steps to keep our spinal joints healthy. Exercises that strengthen the back, stretching, diets that are rich in vitamin D and calcium and maintaining a healthy weight are all things you can do to keep your spinal column healthy. Nothing is 100% guaranteed to stop a disc herniation from occurring but following these simple steps will go a long way toward reducing the chances of it happening.
5- A herniated disc usually isn’t treated with surgery
The good news is that the majority of herniated discs do not need surgery. Most cases can be managed with regular exercise programs, physiotherapy, massage, and/or medication. A slipped disc will usually shrink back away from the nerve and the pain will ease as the disc stops pressing on the affected nerve.
In rare cases, surgery may be required to release a compressed nerve or if the pain doesn’t settle down over time.
Remember, it’s extremely important to keep active if you have a slipped disc. Moving may be difficult to start with, but after resting for a couple of days get up and keep active.
1- Mayo Clinic. Herniated Disc. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/herniated-disk/symptoms-causes/syc-20354095
2- NHS Choices. Slipped disc. Page last reviewed: 13/10/2016. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/slipped-disc/