A herniated disc is a disorder of the intervertebral discs. The intervertebral disc is comprised of an outer elastic ring with a soft interior. If the elastic ring weakens, the soft interior of the disc bulges, creating pressure on a nerve going from the spinal cord to a leg or arm. This commonly occurs in the lower back and less often in the neck.
Pain radiating into an arm or leg is the primary symptom of a herniated disc. A lumbar disc herniation creates lower back pain that radiates into a leg and a cervical disc herniation creates neck pain that spreads into an arm. Pain usually develops quickly, often without obvious cause. Sometimes the onset is sudden, such as when lifting an object. The discussion below is limited to a disc herniation in the lower back.
The radiating pain in the leg may be more severe than pain in the back and often is accompanied by tingling or numbness in the leg or foot. Pain is increased by coughing, sneezing, and movements that create pressure in the lower spine. Lying down usually offers pain relief since the vertical position of standing delivers pressure to the spine.
Intervertebral disc herniations usually occur between 25 and 50 years of age, and more often in men.