The vertebrae that make up the spinal column are separated by soft discs that stop the vertebrae from rubbing together – a bit like a washer in a tap. The disc has a soft centre and a harder outer crust. Sometimes the outer crust gets torn and the soft centre pushes through, irritating the nerves to the side. Commonly known as “slipped disk”, the medical name for this malfunction is “herniated disk”.
Lifting heavy items or twisting one’s body suddenly can result in a herniated disc, but the cause can be normal wear and tear on the body brought about in the ageing process. Discs tend to lose in time some of the water that keeps them soft and the crust part tears more easily. Overweight people and people who do a lot of physical work are more prone to suffer from a herniated disc, but a tendency for it can also be inherited genetically.
It is possible to experience a herniated disc without experiencing any symptoms.
However, pain in the arms or legs or buttocks can be felt if the herniated disc has occurred in the lower back.
Numbness or a kind of tingling is experienced by some people because of nerves near the disc being affected. These can be mild or worsen steadily, particularly round the inner thighs, backs of legs and area near the rectum.
A weakening of muscles can also be brought about by the nerves affected and can cause a person to stumble or find it difficult to hold items. Bladder and bowel function can be affected.