When a disc herniation occurs, the cushion that sits between the spinal vertebrae is pushed outside its normal position. A herniated disc would not be a problem if it weren’t for the spinal nerves that are very close to the edge of these spinal discs. The spinal disc is a soft cushion that sits between each vertebra of the spine. In a young individual, the disc is soft and elastic. With age, the disc gradually loses its elasticity and is more vulnerable to injury. In fact, even in individuals as young as 30, MRIs show evidence of disc deterioration in about 30% of people.

As the spinal disc becomes less elastic, it can rupture. When the disc ruptures, a portion of the spinal disc pushes outside its normal boundary. This is called a herniated disc. When a herniated disc bulges out from between the vertebrae, the spinal nerves and spinal cord can become pinched. If enough of the herniated disc is pushed out of place, these structures may be compressed.

When the herniated disc ruptures, the nerves may become pinched. A herniated disc may occur suddenly in an event such as a fall or an accident, or may occur gradually with repetitive straining of the spine. Often people who experience a herniated disc already have spinal stenosis, narrowing of the space around the spinal cord and spinal nerves. When a herniated disc occurs, the space for the nerves is diminished, and irritates the nerve.
Common symptoms of a herniated disc include:

•Electric shock type pain – Pressure on the nerve can cause abnormal sensations. When the compression occurs in the neck, the shocks go down the arms. When the compression is in the low back, the shocks go down the legs.

•Numbness and tingling – Abnormal sensations such as tingling, numbness, or pins and needles often occur with a herniated disc. These symptoms may be experienced in the same region as painful electric shock sensations.

•Muscle Weakness – Because of the nerve irritation, signals from the brain may be interrupted causing muscle weakness.

•Bowel or Bladder Problems – These symptoms are a medical emergency, and immediate medical attention should be sought if you have problems urinating, having bowel movements, or if you have numbness around your genitals.

By testing sensation, muscle strength, and reflexes, your physician can often establish the diagnosis of a herniated disc.