The discs are pads like a jelly donut that serve as “cushions” between the vertebra, designed to minimize the impact of movement on the spinal column. As you age, your discs dry out and aren’t as flexible as they once were. When a disc degenerates, it can herniate, resulting in the abnormal rupture of the central portion of the disc, causing it to extrude into the spinal canal.
A herniated disc can occur in any part of the spine, but the most common location for a herniated disc is in the disc at the level between the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae in the lower back.
If the disc herniation is large enough, the disc tissue can press on the adjacent spinal nerves that exit the spine at the level of the disc herniation, causing 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.
Risk factors include getting older, being overweight, a history of back injuries, jobs that require long periods of sitting, lifting heavy objects or frequent bending or twisting of the back.
Depending on the severity of symptoms, most minor herniations heal within weeks using anti-inflammatory treatments for pain. However, severe herniations may not heal on their own and may require surgery.