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Symptoms of a Herniated Disc

Pain, Weakness, Tingling, and Sciatica

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Symptoms of a herniated disc may include dull or sharp pain, muscle spasm or cramping, weakness, tingling, or referred pain.

But here's something to consider:  sometimes, a herniated disc doesn't cause any symtpoms at all.  That's called an asymptomatic herniated disc.  Your intervertebral disc may be bulging or herniated, but unless it's pressing on a spinal nerve or the spinal cord, it will not cause any symptoms, such as pain.

This brings up an excellent point about herniated disc symptoms:  your symptoms are dependent on where you have a herniated disc.

Cervical Herniated Disc Symptoms

If you have a herniated disc or bulging disc in your neck (cervical spine), then you may experience:

  • neck pain
  • muscle tightness or cramping in your neck
  • pain that radiates (or travels) down your arm(s) (this is also called referred pain or cervical radiculopathy)
  • tingling in your arm(s) or hand(s)
  • weakness in your arm(s) or hand(s)

Lumbar Herniated Disc Symptoms

A herniated disc in the low back (lumbar spine) may cause the following symptoms:

  • low back pain
  • muscle tightness or cramping in your low back
  • pain that radiates down your leg(s) (this is also called referred pain, lumbar radiculopathy, or sciatica)
  • tingling in your leg(s) or foot/feet
  • weakness in your leg(s) or foot/feet
  • very rare:  loss of bowel or bladder control (Please, if this happens, seek immediate medical care.)

A Note on Referred Pain Caused by a Herniated Disc

Referred pain means that you have pain in another part of your body as a result of the intervertebral disc problem. For example, if you have a bulging disc or a herniated disc in your low back (lumbar spine), you may have referred pain in your leg. This is known as lumbar radiculpathy or sciatica—a shooting pain that can extend from the buttock into the leg and sometimes into the foot. Usually just one leg is affected.

If you have a herniated disc in your neck (cervical spine), you may have referred pain down your arm and into your hand. Leg and arm pain caused by a herniated disc is also called radiculopathy.

Herniated Disc Symptoms:  When Should You See a Doctor?

The pain from a herniated disc can make it difficult to enjoy your daily life; it can make it difficult to walk, sit, or even sleep comfortably.  You should make an appointment with a doctor if your herniated disc symptoms linger for more than two weeks.

If you experience sudden onset of pain (after lifting something heavy incorrectly, for example), call your doctor.

It's very rare, but herniated discs can cause you to lose bowel or bladder control (as mentioned above). If this happens, seek medical attention at once.

Updated on: 01/24/13
Jason M. Highsmith, MD
This article was reviewed by Jason M. Highsmith, MD.
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Causes of a Herniated Disc

Article clearly explains 3 most common causes of a herniated disc. Includes illustration showing the 4 stages of a herniated disc (or bulging disc).
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