One of the most common disc problems is a herniated disc. The bones (vertebrae) that form the spine in your back are cushioned by small, spongy discs. When these discs are healthy, they act as shock absorbers for the spine and keep the spine flexible. But when a disc is damaged, it may bulge or break open. This is called a herniated disc. It may also be called a slipped or ruptured disc.
You can have a herniated disc in any part of your spine. But most herniated discs affect the lower back (lumbar spine). Some happen in the neck (cervical spine) and, more rarely, in the upper back (thoracic spine). This topic focuses mainly on the lower back.
When a herniated disc presses on nerve roots, it can cause pain, numbness, and weakness in the area of the body where the nerve travels. A herniated disc in the lower back can cause pain and numbness in the buttock and down the leg. This is called sciatica (say “sy-AT-ih-kuh”). Sciatica is the most common symptom of a herniated disc in the low back.
If a herniated disc is not pressing on a nerve, you may have a backache or no pain at all.
If you have weakness or numbness in both legs, along with loss of bladder or bowel control, seek medical care right away. This could be a sign of a rare but serious problem called cauda equina syndrome.
- Maintaining a healthy body weight. This may reduce the load on your lower back.
- Exercising regularly.
- Quitting smoking. Nicotine and other toxins from tobacco smoke can be harmful to your body in many ways. Nicotine can harm the discs in your back because it lowers the ability of the discs to absorb the nutrients they need to stay healthy and it may cause them to become dry and brittle.
- Practicing good posture.