Herniated disc, what is it?

Many people have back pain from time to time. In most cases, the cause cannot be precisely determined. However, if the pain radiates down the leg and into the foot, this can indicate a herniated disc.

A herniated disc can be very uncomfortable. In most people, however, the symptoms subside on their own within six weeks. Also, not every herniated disc causes symptoms.

A herniated disc can suddenly cause severe, “shooting” pain. In the case of a prolapse in the area of the cervical spine, the pain can radiate into the arms. Herniated discs in the lumbar spine are the main cause of sciatica. Sciatica is pain that radiates down one leg to the foot. In addition to the typical radiating pain, a herniated disc can also cause pain in the lower back.

Rarely, in addition to the pain, there are also sensory disturbances in the buttocks area or signs of paralysis. These symptoms indicate a serious problem such as nerve damage. If the bladder or bowel function is also disturbed, it must be treated immediately.

Not every slipped disc is associated with symptoms. This is shown by studies in which adults without back pain were examined using magnetic resonance imaging: More than 50 out of 100 persons examined had a bulging intervertebral disc. In about 20 out of 100 people examined, the intervertebral disc was already more severely damaged or tissue had even leaked out without causing any symptoms.

In most people, herniated discs are the result of wear and tear. The elasticity of the intervertebral discs decreases over the years: they lose fluid, become brittle and cracked. Such changes are part of the normal aging process – which, however, varies from person to person. Very rarely, an accident or serious injury can also lead to a tissue prolapse.

If an intervertebral disc is no longer able to absorb loads on the spine so well, a herniated disc can occur. The pain is believed to be caused by disc tissue pressing on a nerve in the spinal cord.

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