A herniated disc may also be referred to as a ruptured, slipped, compressed, bulging, herniated intervertebral or herniated nucleus pulpous disc. The spine consists of 26 vertebrae bones with soft, jelly-filled pads between each of them called discs. The purpose of these small, oval-shaped discs is to stabilize and cushion the vertebrae. A herniated disc is one that has slipped out of its place or one that has ruptured, meaning that the nucleus has pushed through the outside of the disc. Discs may move out of place when the fluid content of the nucleus pulpous (center of the disc) is decreased with age. Most commonly, herniated discs occur at the bottom of the lumbar spine in the last two discs.
Often when discs become herniated, pressure is exerted on nearby nerves. This results in sciatic back pain. When the affected disc is in the lower back, the pain may radiate to the buttocks and legs. The pain may also feel as if it's shooting down the leg, or it may be a continual aching pain. Pain may be experienced during urination and may be more intense when sneezing or coughing. Generally, the pain is worse when sitting as opposed to standing.
When herniated discs put pressure on the nerves, numbness of the legs and feet may result. Also, individuals with herniated discs may experience tingling sensations down the legs.
Some people may experience muscle spasms. The affected nerves may trigger muscle spasms in the back. Weakness of the leg may also occur. Foot drop, or the inability to lift the front part of the foot, may also occur if nerves controlling foot movements are compressed or damaged.
Medical treatment is warranted if symptoms suddenly worsen, or if movement is severely restricted. Medical treatment is also needed if bowel or bladder incontinence occur, because the nerves controlling these areas may have become damaged. Also, if sensation is lost in the areas of your body that ordinarily come in contact with a saddle, treatment is required. This condition is called saddle anesthesia.
Cauda Equina Syndrome
Another condition to be aware of is cauda equina syndrome, a rare disorder that affects the nerves of the lower spine. This syndrome may occur as the result of a herniated disc or tumor on the spine. Symptoms of cauda equina syndrome include fever, increased pain at night or when resting, and pain that intensifies progressively over time. This condition may require emergency surgery to stop its debilitating effects.
Anti-inflammatory medications may be used to relieve pain and inflammation. Also, prescription muscle relaxants may be used to relieve muscle spasms. Other treatments include corticosteroid epidural injections, physical therapy and possibly surgery in severe cases that don't respond to more conservative treatments.
Herniated discs often occur as part of the aging process; however, some individuals may be genetically predisposed to experience herniated discs. Obesity can also contribute to herniated discs because of additional pressure placed on the spine. Inactivity, sitting for long periods, repetitive bending and pulling or lifting heavy objects may also cause disc herniation.