Do you have sharp pain in a particular part of your arm or leg? It may be a herniated disc. However, it could be another problem. Herniated or bulging discs are often blamed for radiating pains, numbness and tingling in the extremities, but they are often not the culprits.
Herniated discs are caused by the gradual or traumatic tearing of the rings that make up the discs. The rings are much like the cross section of a tree trunk, 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.
All those times you lifted heavy objects poorly or got slightly injured, feeling a sore back or neck, means you could have done 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 over night and you can actually gain ½ 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, it is best to first see a physical therapist. In most states, you can now see a physical therapist directly without having to go to a doctor first. Physical therapists are medical specialists in analyzing spinal and body movement. We can discover what is the root cause of your pain and treat it naturally, without the need for medication, injections or surgery. By restoring proper movement and strength through specialized techniques many back pains, neck pains and other musculoskeletal problems can be completely treated.
If you are concerned about a possible herniated disc causing your symptoms or have a friend that has the above symptoms, call Total Function Physical Therapy today to speak with one of our physical therapists. Discover how we can help you have a pain free and active life.