How to Know if You've a Slipped Disc in Your Lower Back

The human spinal cord allows for body flexibility.
The human spinal cord allows for body flexibility. (Image: Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Herniated or "slipped disks" can be due to injury, aging or disease. The disks are capsules with a soft center that fit between the vertebrae of the spine and absorb the shock of movement in daily life. The pressure of the vertebrae on top of the disks make them bulge out slightly, which is normal. However, when too much stress is placed on the disk, especially if it is diseased or worn by age, the disk can bulge out too much or even burst, resulting in a slipped disk. This condition occurs most often in the lower back area but can also affect other areas of the spine.

Check if one of your legs is numb or if you feel tingling in the leg. According to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, a herniated disk in the lower back may press upon a nerve that supplies the central nervous system (CNS) with sensation impulses from the legs. The numbness or tingling may start in the buttocks or at the back of the knee and develop until it reaches the foot.

Look for muscle weakness in one or both legs. The disk may press on nerves that supply the lower body with impulses. The issue can affect only some muscles of the leg, one whole leg or both legs. A very serious symptom of a slipped disk is losing control of your bladder or bowels or both together.

Consider leg pain a potential symptom of a slipped disk. The pain can stretch along the leg and occur as shooting pains. The tingling, numbness or weakness may occur at the same time as the pain.

Note if any pain in your lower back does not go away. Continuous pain or pain that becomes worse over weeks is possible with a slipped disk. If you feel pain when urinating, this is another indication of the condition.

Identify any incidents in the recent past that may have triggered a slipped disk. The condition is most common in people ages 35 to 45 who perform manual labor or drive for a living, according to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, although people of any age can suffer from a herniated disc. Repetitive movements such as bending and heavy lifting increase the chance of developing the condition, as does simple obesity and smoking, which reduce the quality of the disk tissue.

Tips & Warnings

  • Most of the symptoms of a slipped disk result from the disk pressing on a nerve. In some cases, the disk does not affect any nerves and therefore, a sufferer may not be aware she has a herniated disk. Options for diagnoses in these cases are physical examination by a doctor and perhaps tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

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