Worldwide, lower back pain is the leading cause of disability, with nearly 30% people in the U.S. suffering from lower back pain at any given time. An estimated 80% of people will experience back pain in their lifetime, with serious physical, emotional, and economic consequences. Lower back pain costs the U.S. an estimated $100 billion dollars annually in both direct medical costs and indirect costs (e.g., lost wages and productivity). Of all lower back pain causes, the most common is herniated disc. Recognizing herniated disc symptoms can make a world of difference in treating this pain and getting back to your life.

What is a herniated disc?

The human spine consists of 33 vertebrae divided among five regions. These include:

  1. Cervical: The cervical spine is located in the neck and includes seven vertebrae
  2. Thoracic: The upper and mid-back is the thoracic spine, with twelve vertebrae
  3. Lumbar: Five vertebrae are located in this low-back region
  4. Sacral: The sacral area of the spine is largely immovable and consists of five vertebrae
  5. Coccygeal: There are four small bones in this region at the very end of the spine

In all regions of the spine, intervertebral discs are between each vertebrae. An intervertebral disc consists of two layers: an inner, jelly-like layer called the nucleus pulposus and an outer, fibrous layer called the annulus fibrosis.

These intervertebral discs cushion each vertebrae and help them move smoothly in your spine. A herniated disc occurs when some or all of the inner layer of the intervertebral disc ruptures through a weakened point in the outer layer. When the jelly-like inner layer leaks out through the outer layer, there is no cushion between the vertebrae. This can cause pain, inflammation, and even more serious complications.

A herniated disc occurs most frequently in the lumbar spine, specifically between the L4 and L5 vertebrae. This is the lowest region of your lumbar spine and may be less flexible than other vertebrae in this region. For this reason, it may be more susceptible to injury or the consequences of deterioration than other, more flexible parts of the spine.

What are some herniated disc causes?

Herniated disc causes include injuries that happen in an instant and degeneration over time.

  1. Injury: A sudden blow to the spine can cause an intervertebral disc to rupture. Injury can occur as a result of a fall, car accident, or other blow to the spine. Additionally, improper lifting or strain can cause a herniated disc.
  2. Degenerative disc disease: Degenerative disc disease occurs over time as the body ages. The intervertebral disc begins to lose some of its cushiony fluid. This can cause the walls of the intervertebral discs thin and rupture over time.

There are several risk factors for herniated discs. Poor posture and obesity put you at increased risk for herniated discs, as does a genetic disposition to herniated discs. Occupations that feature heavy, repetitive lifting are also risk factors for herniated discs.

What does a herniated disc feel like?

You will likely not feel the actual herniated disc in your spine. Most often, a herniated disc does not feel like anything at the site of the herniation. Occasionally, you may notice a flattening of the lower back if twinges of back pain have unconsciously altered your posture, but other than that, a herniated disc will not necessarily have signs or symptoms in the vertebrae.

So where and when will you notice your herniated disc?

You may notice that bending over to pick something up is challenging, either due to pain or muscle weakness. You might get a twinge of pain as you twist or when you are carrying something.

It is also possible that you will notice your herniated disc from unconscious behaviors. That is, you may begin to adapt your movements and postures in a way that offers pain relief and relief from muscle weakness. These can include things like resting an ankle on your knee when you are seated, or walking around more.

Sometimes these small changes are what leads to a herniated disc diagnosis. You may find yours