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Disc Herniations: Everything You Need To Know

disc herniation from mayo clinic website

When it comes to any kind of back pain, disc herniations are definitely towards the top of the list. These pesky little discs have a tendency to slip out of place and wreak havoc on our spines. But what exactly causes them to do so? In this article we’ll tell you everything you need to know about herniated discs.

What is a herniated disc?

Well, a herniated disc happens when the squishy stuff on the inside breaks through the outside barrier and puts pressure on the nerves around it. This can lead to all sorts of discomfort, from sharp pains to numbness and even weakness. Luckily, there are treatments available to help alleviate the symptoms and get you back on your feet.

Causes of Herniated Discs

Herniated discs can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  1. Age – As we age, the discs in our spine can become less flexible and more prone to herniation.
  2. Injury – Trauma to the spine, such as a fall or car accident, can cause a herniated disc.
  3. Genetics – Some people may be more prone to herniated discs due to genetic factors.
  4. Repetitive motions – Repetitive motions, such as bending, twisting, or lifting heavy objects, can put pressure on the spine and lead to a herniated disc.

Symptoms of Herniated Discs

The symptoms of a herniated disc can vary depending on the location and severity of the herniation. Common symptoms include:

  1. Pain – This is the most common symptom of a herniated disc. The pain may be felt in the neck, lower back, or other parts of the body, depending on the location of the herniation. You can learn more about this on our radiating pain page.
  2. Numbness or tingling – Herniated discs can cause numbness or tingling in the affected area. For example, a herniated disc in the neck can cause numbness or tingling in the arms or hands.
  3. Weakness – Herniated discs can also cause weakness in the affected area. For example, a herniated disc in the lower back can cause weakness in the legs.
  4. Difficulty standing or walking – In severe cases, a herniated disc can make it difficult to stand or walk due to pain or weakness in the affected area.

Symptoms Of Disc Herniation In The Neck

Disc herniations in the neck can cause a variety of symptoms.

  • Neck pain is one of the most common symptoms, which may radiate to the shoulders, arms, and hands.
  • Numbness and tingling in the affected area may also occur.
  • Muscle weakness may develop in the neck, shoulders, and arms.
  • Severe pain and weakness can interfere with daily activities, such as holding a cup of water.
  • Headaches and dizziness may occur, especially if the herniated disc is compressing a nerve that affects blood flow to the brain.

The most common areas that cervical disc herniations occur are: C5-C6 and C6-C7 levels.

Symptoms Of Herniated Disc In The Low Back

Disc herniations in the low back can cause a variety of symptoms.

  • Low back pain is one of the most common symptoms, which may radiate to the hips, buttocks, legs and feet.
  • Numbness and tingling in the affected area may also occur, often down the back of the leg and into the foot.
  • Muscle weakness may develop in the low back, hips, legs, and feet.
  • Pain may increase with certain movements, such as bending forward, twisting, or lifting.
  • Severe pain and weakness can interfere with daily activities and may lead to difficulty standing or walking.
  • Bladder or bowel problems, such as incontinence, may occur in severe cases.

The most common areas that lumbar disc herniations occur are: L4-L5 and L5-S1 levels.

Treatments for Herniated Discs

Treatment for a herniated disc will depend on the severity of the herniation and the symptoms it causes. Common treatments include:

  1. Rest – In some cases, rest may be enough to alleviate the symptoms of a herniated disc.
  2. Chiropractic Care – Chiropractic care can help by realigning the spine and alieviating the pressure on the affected nerves, while also decompressing the herniated disc to regain hydration.
  3. Physical therapy – Physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles around the affected area and improve flexibility.
  4. Medication – Over-the-counter or prescription pain medication may be recommended to manage pain and inflammation if they are severe.
  5. Surgery – In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the herniated material and relieve pressure on the nerves.

Prevention of Disc Herniation

While it may not be possible to prevent all herniated discs, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk, including:

  1. Maintaining good posture – Good posture can help prevent unnecessary pressure on the spine.
  2. Exercising regularly – Regular exercise can help keep the muscles around the spine strong and flexible.
  3. Lifting properly – When lifting heavy objects, use your legs instead of your back to avoid putting unnecessary strain on the spine.
  4. Quitting smoking – Smoking can weaken the discs in the spine and increase the risk of herniation.


Herniated discs can be a painful and uncomfortable condition, but with proper treatment and prevention, it is possible to manage the symptoms and reduce the risk of future herniations. At times, this is exactly what causes sciatica. If you are experiencing symptoms of a herniated disc, it is important to speak with your doctor to determine the best course of treatment for your specific situation.

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