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Herniated Disc

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Symptoms of a Herniated Disc

If the ruptured disc is not pressing on a nerve there may be no symptoms at all, or there may be some minimal pain. If the disc is pressing on a nerve, symptoms may include pain in the  back or neck, leg or arm pain, weakness, numbness or tingling.

Symptoms of a lumbar (lower back) herniated disc include:

  • Intermittent or continuous back pain (this may be made worse by movement, coughing, sneezing, or standing for long periods of time
  • Spasm of the back muscles
  • Pain that starts near the back or buttock and radiates down the leg to the calf or into the foot (this is from “sciatica,” meaning pressure on the large sciatic nerve in the lower back, buttocks, and legs
  • Muscle weakness in the legs
  • Numbness in the leg or foot
  • Decreased reflexes at the knee or ankle

Symptoms of a cervical (neck) herniated disc:

  • Pain between the shoulder blades that can be dull or sharp
  • Pain that radiates down the arms to the hands
  • Muscle spasms
  • Numbness , tingling, or weakness in the arms, hands, or fingers
  • Muscle atrophy

The symptoms of a slipped disc vary from person to person, depending on the size and location of the herniation, how overweight or fit a person is, and other factors.

Sometimes a herniated disc can lead to another condition called spinal cord compression. This happens when pressure is placed on the spinal cord. There may be edema (swelling) of the cord, as well. Symptoms may come on either suddenly or gradually and may include:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Balance problems
  • Falling
  • Dropping things
  • Difficulty with fine-motor skills such as buttoning, handwriting, or picking up small objects
  • Arm or leg weakness, cramping
  • Changes in bladder or bowel function

Minimally invasive surgery can reduce the swelling and stop the progression of symptoms of spinal cord compression (see Diagnosing and Treating a Herniated Disc).

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Reviewed by: Eric Elowitz, MD
Last reviewed/last updated: September 2020