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How Do You Know if You Have a Herniated Disc?

How do you know if you have a herniated disc?  If you have a sharp pain in a particular part of your arm or leg, a herniated disc could be the cause.  Herniated or bulging discs are often blamed for radiating pains, numbness, and tingling in the extremities, but they are not always the culprits.

So what causes a herniated disc?  This happens when there is a gradual or traumatic tearing of the rings that make up the discs.  If you imagine a tree truck, these rings are much like the cross section of the trunk, but with a jelly-like nucleus in the middle.  Discs are the shock absorbers between each vertebra in your spine.  Their purpose is to provide stability, support, and shape.

Think about a time you lifted a heavy object and used poor form which then caused a minor injury or left you feeling a sore back or neck.  This could mean you actually caused micro-tearing of the discs.  Over time, this repetitive injury can lead to the nucleus of the disc oozing backwards and out into the canals where your nerves exit from your spine to different parts of your body.

Herniated discs can occur in all parts of the spine, but typically occur in the lower lumbar levels (L3-S1) or mid cervical (neck C3-C6) levels.  Discs swell overnight and you can actually gain half an inch of height, so symptoms are typically worse in the morning.

Here are some common herniated disc symptoms:

  • Gradual numbness or tingling in a specific part of an arm, hand, leg or foot.
  • Specific pain in the leg or arm, can be sharp and typically worse in the mornings.
  • Difficulty with moving or bending in the mornings.
  • Possible weakness in the leg, foot, arm or hand.
  • Pain is more one-sided.

Things to consider:

  • You can have a bulging disc or herniated disc without symptoms and many people do.  It doesn’t mean you need to have surgery.
  • Most herniated and bulging discs can be conservatively treated with physical therapy without ever needing surgery.
  • MRIs can show a positive herniated or bulging disc in more than 30% of the population without ever having symptoms.  Therefore, just because you have a herniated or bulging disc on an MRI, it doesn’t mean that it is the cause of your symptoms.
  • Sciatica is an impingement of the sciatic nerve, typically deep in the buttock.  This can often mimic the symptoms of a herniated disc.

What to do

If you are having radiating pain in the arm or legs, the physical therapists at Loudoun Sports Therapy Center can help.  Our clinicians are medical specialists in analyzing spinal and body movement.  They can determine the root cause of your pain and treat it naturally, without the need for medication, injections or surgery.

If you are concerned about a possible herniated disc causing your symptoms or have a friend that has the above symptoms, call Loudoun Sports Therapy Center today, 703-450-4300 and ask to speak with one of our physical therapists.  Discover how physical therapy can help you LIVE LIFE PAIN FREE!