As a disc degenerates, the soft inner gel in the disc can leak back into the spinal canal. This is known as disc herniation, or herniated disc. Once inside the spinal canal, the herniated disc material then puts pressure on the nerve, causing pain to radiate down the nerve leading to sciatica or leg pain (from a lumbar herniated disc) or arm pain (from a cervical herniated disc).
What is a Herniated Disc ?
Degenerative Disc Disease Causes
Not actually a disease, degenerative disc disease refers to a condition in which pain is caused from a disc that loses integrity.
Several factors can cause discs to degenerate, including age. Specific factors include:
- The drying out of the disc. As we age, the disc dries out and doesn’t absorb shocks as well
- Daily activities and sports can cause tears in the outer core of the disc
- Injuries can cause swelling, soreness and instability
Unlike other tissues of the body, there is very little blood supply to the disc, so once a disc is injured, it cannot repair itself, and the discs can start to deteriorate.
Most herniated disks occur in the lower back, although they can also occur in the neck. Signs and symptoms depend on where the disk is situated and whether the disk is pressing on a nerve. They usually affect one side of the body.
- Arm or leg pain. If your herniated disk is in your lower back, you’ll typically feel the most pain in your buttocks, thigh and calf. You might have pain in part of the foot, as well. If your herniated disk is in your neck, you’ll typically feel the most pain in your shoulder and arm. This pain might shoot into your arm or leg when you cough, sneeze or move into certain positions. Pain is often described as sharp or burning.
- Numbness or tingling. People who have a herniated disk often have radiating numbness or tingling in the body part served by the affected nerves.
- Weakness. Muscles served by the affected nerves tend to weaken. This can cause you to stumble, or affect your ability to lift or hold items.
You can have a herniated disk without symptoms. You might not know you have it unless it shows up on a spinal image.