How to Know If You Have a Herniated Disc
Do you suspect you have a prolapsed disc in your back?
A herniated disc, also known as a slipped or prolapsed disc often causes intense back pain. If you’re not sure what the cause is, a prolapsed disc might very well be the culprit for your pain – but how can you tell?
A medical doctor is always needed for a certain diagnosis, but there are a few herniated disc warning signs to watch out for. In this guide, we’ll go over how to know if you have a herniated disc, as well as potential ruptured disc treatment and everything else you may need to know. Keep reading to learn how to make the pain disappear!
What is a Prolapsed Disc?
A slipped disc is often the cause of intense back pain with a sudden onset. It hurts because the disc usually presses a nerve in the spine, which can cause pain not just in the back, but in a leg or other body part.
The pain will often let up over the course of a few weeks, with rest and painkillers. However, if it doesn’t stop, you might need surgery or more intense treatment.
“Slipped” discs are somewhat misnamed: they don’t actually slip out of place. Instead, a part of the soft, inner part of the disc bulges through a weak point in the outer part of the disc. That’s why they’re called prolapsed or herniated discs.
The bulge of the disc is what pushes on the nerve, causing pain. Sometimes, the herniated area also becomes inflamed. This inflammation can further irritate a nerve and create swelling, adding even more pressure.
Any disk along the spine can become herniated. However, the issue happens in the lower back most often. The prolapse can be larger or smaller, but the larger ones tend to be more severe.
The Structure of the Spine
To understand how this can happen, it helps to understand more about how the back and spine work.
The spine is made up of small bones, or vertebrae. Each vertebra has a kind of flat, cylindrical shape and a disc rests between each one of these bones.
These discs are made of a kind of rubbery material, which gives our spine its flexibility. Each of these discs is constructed the same way: with a strong outer layer and a softer center.
Within the spinal cord are our nerves, which come from the brain and lead to every other part of the body. The spine keeps our nerves safe from damage, so they can do their job of sending messages from the brain to the body and vice versa.
We also have ligaments attached to our vertebrae. They offer more strength and support to the spinal structure. Muscles surround and attach to the spine as well.
When a disc becomes herniated, this seemingly small issue affects all of these different parts that work together. That’s why the symptoms of a prolapsed disc are often so severe.
Prolapsed Disc Symptoms
Is a herniated disc the cause of your back pain? Let’s take a look at the common symptoms that offer clues.
1. Back Pain
The most common prolapsed disc symptom is simple: pain in the back. However, this pain is usually severe and starts all of a sudden. If you have mild back pain or pain that starts out gradually, it’s probably not due to a herniated disc.
Laying still will usually make the pain feel better, but moving, sneezing, or coughing will increase the pain.
2. Nerve Pain
If you have pain in your nerve roots, that’s often another giveaway that the culprit is a slipped disc.
Nerve root pain happens because the slipped disc is pressing on a nerve that comes out from the spinal cord. It can also happen because the inflammation of the prolapsed disc is irritating the nerve root.
Even though the problem stems from the spine, you might feel pain at any or all points along the nerve’s pathway. For example, if the nerve extends down the leg, you might feel pain in your foot, calf, or knee.
The nerve root pain can be mild, severe, or anywhere in between. However, most of the time, it feels worse than your back pain does. This type of pain usually feels like a burning sensation.
Other nerves can be affected, but the nerve that’s affected the most often by a slipped disc is the sciatic nerve. This nerve is actually comprised of a number of smaller nerves that come from the lower back and extend down the backs of the legs.
3. Nerve Symptoms
In addition to pain, you might feel other symptoms because of the pressure of the prolapsed disc on your nerves. These symptoms can include numbness, weakness, or a “pins and needles” sensation. Again, the sciatic nerve is most often affected, so you’ll probably feel these symptoms in your foot or leg.
4. Cauda Equina Syndrome
In very rare cases, your nerve root issue could become cauda equina syndrome. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s a medical emergency and you must seek ruptured disc treatment right away.
In this disorder, the nerves being pushed on by the slipped disc are at the base of the spinal cord. In addition to pain in the lower back, the symptoms of this syndrome can include leg weakness, numbness between the legs, and issues with the bladder and bowels. For example, you might find yourself completely unable to use the bathroom.
If you don’t seek herniated disc treatments right away, this disorder could cause your nerves to sustain permanent damage, so don’t delay if you have these symptoms.
How to Treat a Herniated Disc
Minor prolapsed disc symptoms often go away on their own, with time. However, if you have this problem frequently or the symptoms don’t go away, you might need ruptured disc treatment.
Looking for reliable treatment for this and other spinal issues? Check out our treatment options here.