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).
Degenerative / Herniated Disc Disease Causes
Disc herniation can occur as a result of disc degeneration, which happens normally as the spine ages. Degenerative disc disease refers to pain that is caused when spinal discs lose integrity.
Several factors can cause discs to degenerate, including age. Specific factors include:
The drying out of the disc. As the spine ages, the disc(s) dry out and lose their ability to absorb shocks as effectively.
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. Therefore, once a disc is injured, it cannot repair itself, and the discs can start to deteriorate.
Symptoms Of Herniated Disc Disease
Most herniated discs occur in the lower back, although they can also occur in the neck. Signs and symptoms depend on where the disc is situated and whether the disc is pressing on a nerve, and usually affect one side of the body. Main symptoms include:
Arm or leg pain. When herniated discs present in the lower back, patients will experience pain in the buttocks, thighs, and calves, with some patients also reporting pain in parts of the feet. When the herniated discs present in the neck, patients will experience pain in the shoulder and arm, and it may also shoot into the arm and leg in the event of coughing, sneezing, or movement. These pains are often described as sharp or burning.
Numbness or tingling. Those suffering from herniated discs often report radiating numbness or tingling in the body parts served by the affected nerves.
Weakness. Muscles served by the affected nerves tend to weaken, and this can cause stumbling, or affect patients’ ability to lift or hold items.
It is possible to miss a herniated disc as the disease can present without symptoms. Patients may not know they are affected unless it shows up on a spinal image.