8 Herniated Disc Symptoms You Should Know

woman with herniated disc symptoms examining spine model

The spine plays a crucial role in supporting your body and allowing movement. Discs located between each vertebra act as shock absorbers, protecting your spine and make it more flexible. Sometimes, because of injury, disease, or everyday activities, these discs rupture, causing pain and other uncomfortable symptoms.

If you think you have a herniated disc, then it’s best to understand the spine as well as common herniated disc symptoms. An untreated herniated disc can be a major source of pain and debilitation as it affects the spinal cord or other important nerves.

lumbar herniated disc

Understanding Your Spine & Intervertebral Discs

Your spine runs from the base of your skull to the pelvis. A series of bones, known as vertebrae, are stacked upon each other. The spine has three main regions:

  • Cervical Spine: A series of seven vertebrae that start at the base of the skull. These bones allow for support and movement of the neck.
  • Thoracic Spine: Twelve vertebrae that connect the end of the neck region to the middle back. This area of the spine attaches to the ribs and provides protection for many of your major organs.
  • Lumbar Spine: Five or six large vertebrae that connect the thoracic spine to the pelvis. This lower back area of the spine supports the bulk of the body’s weight.

In between each vertebra lies a circular structure, known as an intervertebral disc. These disc cushion each bone and make the spine more flexible. Two main components contribute to the structure of our discs. The outer component is a thick ring of strong cartilage known as the annulus fibrosus. This rubbery ring encircles a soft, gel-like structure known as the nucleus pulposus.

Since these discs support the body and allow for movement, they have a tendency to become injured easily. Sometimes this is due to the normal wear and tear of everyday activities. In other cases, trauma to the spine, such as a fall or car accident, can be to blame. Certain lifestyle choices like smoking or not exercising may also make the discs more prone to injury.

What is a Herniated Disc?

Sometimes considered a ruptured disc, this condition occurs when the outer layer of the disc weakens and dries out. Like any area of the body, our discs suffer from the effects of aging, especially if we are not mindful of ways to protect our spine. As the disc loses shape, a slight bulge may form near the injured area of the annulus fibrosus. Eventually, the inner nucleus pulposus breaks through the walls of the outer disc and moves into the spinal canal. This can create nerve compression, as well as lead to painful or debilitating symptoms.

8 Herniated Disc Symptoms You Should Know

When a disc ruptures and puts pressure on a nerve, it can cause a variety of symptoms. In many cases, discs are damaged in the neck or lower back because of the extra movement in these areas. If you think you may have a herniated disc, then check for these symptoms:

Lower Back, Neck, or Chest Pain

Since the disc presses against a nearby nerve, one of the most common symptoms of a ruptured disc is pain. Depending on how the nerve is affected, this can range from a minor irritation to excruciating discomfort. Sometimes the pain subsides in a couple months. For some, however, the agony can become more chronic.

Pain generally originates in the area of the herniated disc. For example, if you have a thoracic herniated disc, expect to feel discomfort in the middle back or chest. Sometimes the pain travels to other areas of the body due to local nerve damage and inflammation.

man with lower back pain from lumbar herniated disc

Cervical Radiculopathy

A great example of traveling pain occurs if you have a cervical herniated disc. When one or more nerves of the neck become pinched or function improperly, you may experience a variety of symptoms. Pain can begin in one area of the body, such as the shoulder, and travel along the arm to the fingers. This condition is known as cervical radiculopathy.

While some with a cervical herniated disc experience dull pain, others may describe their pain as sharp, burning, or stabbing. In addition, certain neck movements, such as bending the neck backward, can increase pain.

Lumbar Radiculopathy

When you are suffering from a lumbar herniated disc, you may experience a pain very similar to that of a pinched nerve in the neck. This traveling pain can start at the back of the leg and extend all the way down to the foot. This condition is also known as sciatica.

Those with a lumbar herniated disc often describe a deep, nearly constant pain that worsens while sitting or walking.

Paresthesia

In addition to pain, you may experience others sensations, such as numbness and tingling, at the area where the disc is damaged. This symptom is known as paresthesia. These sensations may also travel to other extremities of the body including the arms and legs.

Muscle Weakness

A herniated disc puts pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots. This pressure makes it harder for the nerves to carry signals to and from the brain. As a result, the muscles may feel unresponsive and weak. If a nerve root becomes inflamed, it can result in a loss of fine or gross motor control.

If the lumbar spine is affected, muscle weakness may also result in a condition known as foot drop. This occurs when you have difficulty lifting the foot while standing or walking. Conversely, a herniated disc in the neck can cause muscle weakness in the arm or hand.

woman with hand weakness from cervical herniated disc

Myelopathy

When a herniated disc puts pressure on the spinal cord, it can affect your walking, grip strength, and other important functions. This is a very serious, although uncommon, result of a herniated disc. If you notice difficulties with balance, fine motor activities like buttoning your clothes, or even a change in your handwriting, you should seek immediate help.

Myelopathy can lead to permanent paralysis and even death. In many cases, surgery from a qualified orthopedic surgeon is necessary.

Incontinence

Another very serious symptom of a herniated disc involves a disruption in your body’s ability to remove waste. If you stop feeling the urge to urinate or have a bowel movement or cannot control your bodily functions, get help immediately. Although this is a rare condition, it can lead to permanent damage.

Saddle Anesthesia

If you’re experiencing a sudden or gradual onset of symptoms in the groin, thighs, buttocks, or genitals, it could be a result of cauda equina syndrome. This symptoms of this condition may include numbness, stabbing pains, or loss of sensation in the area. This issue often requires immediate surgery to decompress the affected nerves.

Getting Help for Your Herniated Disc

As you can see, symptoms of a herniated disc often vary. While some cause only minor discomfort, others can lead to paralysis or even death. If you suffer from chronic pain or some the more serious symptoms of a herniated disc, seeking the guidance of an orthopedic surgeon may be the best decision to get your life back.

At New York City Spine, Dr. Daveed Frazier and his team of spine experts are ready to hear your symptoms, concerns, and treatment goals. We specialize in using the most advanced minimally invasive options for reducing pain and restoring function to an affected area of the spine. In many cases, we can treat issues like herniated discs without surgery.

If you do require herniated disc surgery, our experienced surgeons will use the latest technology to reduce scarring, pain, and recovery times. We make sure your discectomy or other minimally invasive procedure is the best choice for lasting pain relief.

Don’t delay to schedule an appointment with the team at New York City Spine. We are ready to diagnose and treat any of your spinal or orthopedic issues so you can once again enjoy a pain-free life.

At New York City Spine Surgery, our standard for excellent care means treating you as a whole person, and not just another spine disorder on a chart.

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