A herniated disc is typically the result of wear and tear or an injury. Read on for a helpful overview of how a disc herniates:

See Insights and Advice About Herniated Discs

A lumbar herniated disc is most likely to affect individuals age 35 to 50.
Herniated Disc Video

The structure of a disc

Each of your spinal discs sit between 2 vertebrae. A spinal disc is comprised of the following:

  • The nucleus pulposus, a softer, gel-like substance in the center of the disc.
  • The annulus fibrosus, which refers to the outer layers of the disc.

See Spinal Discs

Your spinal discs serve at least 2 functions. First, they act as a shock absorber between the vertebrae in your spine. Second, they help to facilitate movement in your spine.

See Vertebrae in the Vertebral Column

But spinal discs can quickly turn from a help to a nuisance as the result of a herniation.

See Spinal Anatomy and Back Pain


Weakened discs can lead to herniations

Due to the natural aging process and general wear and tear, your discs lose a portion of the fluid that makes them both pliable and spongy.

See Diagnosing Disc Problems

In turn, your discs may become both flatter and harder. This is a process known as disc degeneration, and it may begin as soon as early adulthood. Fortunately, many people will not experience any symptoms as a result of disc degeneration.

See What Is Degenerative Disc Disease?

However, in certain cases the annulus fibrosus portion of one of your spinal discs may crack or tear as a result of pressure. In turn, the inner portion (known as the the nucleus pulposus) may leak out (or herniate). This herniation can, though not always, lead to painful symptoms.

See Understanding the Clinical Diagnosis of a Herniated Disc

You may experience a herniated disc in your neck, upper back, or lower back. But a disc is most likely to herniate in your lower back (over 90 percent of herniations occur in this area), as this is where the most pressure is applied to your discs.

Herniated disc symptoms

In the case of a lumbar herniated disc (lower back), you may experience sciatica symptoms if the inner fluid of your disc, or a disc fragment, aggravates a nearby nerve root.

See Lumbar Herniated Disc: What You Should Know

For a cervical (neck) herniated disc, you may feel weakness, pain, numbness, or tingling in your shoulder, fingers, or arm.

See Cervical Herniated Disc Symptoms and Treatment Options

Finally, with a thoracic herniated disc (upper back), you may feel pain in your upper back or chest area. But fortunately these types of herniations are rare.

See Thoracic Disc Herniation Symptoms

It is important to note that everyone experiences symptoms from a herniated disc differently. For example, one person may feel no pain from a lumbar herniated disc; while another can find a similar injury debilitating.

See Lumbar Herniated Disc Symptoms

Initial treatment options

The main goal when it comes to treatment is to relieve your herniated disc symptoms. However, it is important to have your injury properly diagnosed before beginning most treatments. This is because the wrong kinds of treatment may aggravate your condition.

See Treatment Options for a Herniated Disc

Your doctor will likely have you begin with conservative treatment options, which may include:

See Exercise for Sciatica from a Herniated Disc

Learn more:

Sciatica Causes

Leg Pain and Numbness: What Might These Symptoms Mean?