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Symptoms and Signs of Slipped Disc (Herniated Disc)

Doctor's Notes on Slipped Disc (Herniated Disc)

A slipped or herniated disc refers to an abnormality of the intervertebral discs, which are pads of tissue that serve as "cushions" between the vertebral bodies in the spinal column (backbone). Abnormal rupture of the the disc is referred to as a disc herniation and is sometimes termed a “slipped disc”. This most often happens in the low back, and it may press on the nerve tissue in the spinal nerves adjacent to the area of the rupture.

Signs and symptoms of a herniated disc depend on the level of the spine where the disc herniation occurs. A disc herniation may not cause any symptoms if nerve tissue is not being compressed or irritated. If the disc herniation presses on the adjacent spinal nerves , symptoms can include cause shooting pain in the distribution of that nerve, which usually occurs on one side of the body. A disc herniation at the level between the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae of the low back (a common location for a herniated disc) can cause a shooting pain down the buttock into the back of the thigh and down the leg. Other associated symptoms can include weakness, tingling, or numbness.

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Slipped Disc (Herniated Disc) Symptoms

The nerves of the body exit the spine at each spinal level in the low back, mid back, and neck. A herniated disc can produce symptoms anywhere along the course of that nerve, though the injury and irritation of the nerve are at the spine itself. (This is known as referred pain, as the pain is "referred" from the source of the problem in the spine to the area supplied by the affected nerve.) A slipped disc can produce varying degrees of pain in the back or neck along with numbness or weakness in the corresponding organs, arms, or legs as follows:

  • For slipped discs in the neck: Neck symptoms and other associated symptoms include numbness, tingling, weakness, or pain in the shoulder, neck, arm, or hand. Symptoms of a herniated disc in the neck often increase or decrease with neck motion.
  • For slipped discs in the lower back, back symptoms include
    • Pain down the back of each leg from the buttocks to the knee or beyond (this is called sciatica, as it affects the sciatic nerve)
    • Numbness, tingling, weakness, or pain in the buttocks, back, legs, or feet or all of these as in sciatica
    • Numbness and tingling around the anus or genitals
    • Pain with movement, straining, coughing, or doing leg raises
    • Difficulty controlling bowel movements or bladder function

Slipped Disc (Herniated Disc) Causes

Risk factors that lead to a slipped disc include aging with associated degeneration and loss of elasticity of the discs and supporting structures; injury from improper lifting, especially if accompanied by twisting or turning; and excessive strain forces associated with physical activities. Sudden forceful acute trauma is an uncommon cause of a slipped disc.

Low Back Pain Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Relief Slideshow

Low Back Pain Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Relief Slideshow

Nearly everyone will experience some form of back pain in his or her lifetime. The low back is the area behind the belly from the rib cage to the pelvis and is also called the lumbar region. Back pain is a major cause of missed work. Low back pain usually resolves on its own and is commonly the result of a strain injury. There are many treatments for low back pain.

At Risk for Lower Back Pain?

Low back pain can start in a person’s early twenties and continue on throughout adulthood. Studies have shown that up to 80% of the general population are affected by low back pain (LBP) at some time during their lives. Learn to prevent lower back pain by knowing what activities could be putting you at risk.

Common Causes of Low Back Pain

  • Manual materials handling (especially lifting)
  • Twisting of the trunk
  • Bending the trunk forward
  • Bending the trunk to the side
  • Excessive reaching
  • Falls
  • Prolonged sitting
  • Sedentary jobs
  • Highly physical jobs
  • Exposure to whole-body vibration
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Obesity
  • Extreme tallness


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.