Sandwiched between each of the vertebrae in your spinal column is a disc of cartilage that acts as a shock-absorbing pad. These discs have a soft, jelly-like centre and a tough, fibrous outer layer. A tear in this outer layer will allow some of the soft centre to bulge out. This bulge may press on the nerve roots emerging from the spine in the region of the damaged discs.
Causes for Disc Herniation
Depending on the location of the herniated disc, symptoms can vary, but there is usually severe pain and restriction of movement. In the lower back, the pain tends to be a deep unrelenting ache, which may radiate out to your hips, groin, buttocks and legs. You may also develop sciatica – a sharp pain, radiating down one leg, accompanied by numbness or tingling. Herniated discs can also occur in the neck, causing severe pain that may spread into your shoulders, arms, and hands, making it difficult to turn your head or move it backwards or forwards. You will usually feel pain in only one side of your body. Your doctor will make a diagnosis by performing a physical examination; if your symptoms persist, he may order further tests, such as an MRI or CT scan.
Risks and Recovery for Disc Herniation
Recovery from a slipped disc usually takes 4-6 weeks, and the risk of further serious developments occurring are few. However, if a disc herniation protrudes fully into the spinal canal, it can compress the cauda equina and damage the nerves leading to your legs, bladder and bowels. This may result in weakness and numbness in both legs and the lower part of your body, loss of bladder and bowel control, and even impotence. Although this rarely happens, it is an emergency and you should seek immediate medical help.