A herniated disk is a common source of back or neck pain. This is sometimes called a “slipped” or “ruptured” disk, and most often occurs in the lower back and the small disks of the neck.
Disks are the soft rubbery pads found between the vertebrae that make up the spinal column. These allow the back to flex and bend, and they also act as a shock absorber. A disk herniates when part of the center pushes through the other edge of the disk and back toward the spinal column. Spinal nerves are sensitive to even the smallest amount of pressure, resulting in pain numbness or weakness in one or both of the legs.
You’re at risk for a herniated disk as you age because of the decrease in water content in the disks. The disks become less flexible and can be weakened by improper lifting, smoking, obesity, sudden pressure and/or repeated strenuous activity.
Symptoms of a herniated disk include back pain, weakness in the leg and/or foot, tingling, weakness in one arm and burning pain in the neck and/or shoulders.
Your doctor will likely treat your herniated disk nonsurgically unless you’ve previously tried nonsurgical options to no avail. Doctors will recommend rest and over-the-counter pain medication as a start and may prescribe a muscle relaxer or anti-inflammatory medication. You can also use a cold compress or ice several times a day, and, after spasms settle, a heat application may be used.