Each year, herniated discs affect millions of Americans — so if you’re dealing with this condition, you are not alone. Although they do not always cause symptoms, herniated disc pain can affect nearly every part of your life, from your job, to family time, to your favorite hobbies.
With herniated disc pain, it may be tempting to hope for the best and see if it improves over time. But because herniated discs are typically degenerative conditions that worsen with age, untreated symptoms have a much higher chance of becoming debilitating.
To help you decide if it’s time to take the next step in tackling your herniated disc pain, we’re sharing five signs and symptoms of this condition that no one should ignore.
What Is a Herniated Disc?
A herniated disc is a condition where the center of a spinal disc protrudes out from a small tear in the tougher outer layer. These flexible discs are made to cushion the vertebrae in the spine, absorbing shock and allowing us to bend and flex. A combination of age and everyday wear can cause the discs to dry out and lose their elasticity, causing cracks in the outer layer.
Pressure from everyday movements, heavy lifting or injuries can cause these cracks to become tears and for the softer inner layer to get pushed out — resulting in a herniated disc. Herniated discs are not always painful, and they can sometimes go undiagnosed for years. But if herniated disc material irritates or compresses surrounding nerve tissue, it can cause a number of painful symptoms.
These Five Signs of Herniated Disc Pain Require Care and Attention
If you are experiencing any of these common signs of herniated disc pain, you should take action with proactive treatment:
1. Localized Pain
Herniated discs are most common in the upper spine and the lower spine, because these discs withstand more pressure. This is why for many people the first sign of a herniated disc is either localized neck pain or back pain. Localized herniated disc pain is often described as a burning sensation, but symptoms can vary and worsen with movement and position.
2. Shooting Pain
Because of their position in the spine, herniated discs have a high risk of irritating or compressing nerves in the spinal cord as well as nerve roots that are extending out of the spinal column. When this happens it can result in pain that shoots out into the body.
A herniated disc in the upper spine, or cervical spine, can cause pain in the shoulder and arm in addition to the neck. A herniated disc in the lower spine, or lumbar spine, can cause shooting pains into the buttocks, hips, legs and even feet. This set of symptoms is commonly known as sciatica.
Shooting pain and other radiating symptoms we’ll discuss below will usually occur on one side of the body or the other when it is caused by a herniated disc.
3. Tingling and Numbness in the Extremities
Another form of herniated disc pain related to nerve compression is tingling in the upper or lower extremities. This is often described as a “pins and needles” sensation and it can be accompanied by bouts of numbness in the area as well. The location of these sensations is once again related to the location of the herniated disc. For example, lumbar herniated disc can cause tingling and numbness in the lower extremities and a cervical herniated disc can affect the upper extremities.
This is very often a sign of progression of a herniated disc and could be a sign of the development of long-term nerve damage.
4. Muscle Weakness
Because the spinal nerves deliver both sensation and motor information to the muscles, nerve compression by a herniated disc can also result in muscle weakness. Common locations include the arms for cervical herniated discs and the legs for lumbar herniated discs. This can affect posture, grip and can make it harder to stand up and sit down.
5. Mobility Problems and Limping
In some of the most advanced cases, herniated disc pain can cause issues including foot drop and limping that can make it difficult to accomplish nearly any basic task. In the lumbar spine, this is usually the result of severe compression and eventual damage to the sciatic nerve. This long nerve branches from the lower spine and travels all the way down to the feet, with limping and mobility problems being signs of the most advanced cases.
Learn More About Treatment Options for Herniated Disc Pain
If herniated disc pain is affecting your life, don’t accept that you’ll just have to live with the pain. When left untreated, herniated disc pain can worsen over time, eventually resulting in nerve damage and mobility problems that can seriously lower your quality of life. By taking a proactive approach to herniated disc treatment, you can give yourself the best chance of successfully managing symptoms on a long-term basis.
Physician Partners of America takes a personalized and holistic approach to herniated disc pain treatment. From interventional pain management to minimally invasive spine surgery, our expert team can help you develop an effective care plan for every stage of your treatment journey.
Contact us today and let us show you how you can live pain free.