What is a Herniated Disc?
Part 2

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Terms used to Describe a Herniated Disc

Many of the following terms are used to answer to the question, What is a herniated disc?

• Pinched nerve
• Bulging disc
• Ruptured disc
• Slipped disc
• Disc protrusion
• Disc degeneration
• Degenerative disc disease

What each of these terms is describing is a herniated disc.

This term is derived from the action of the center nucleus tissue when it is forced outward.

The disc itself does not slip. However, the nucleus tissues in the center of the disc can be placed under so much pressure that the outer ring of cartilage, the annulus, ruptures against one or more of the spinal nerves.

This can cause pain, numbness, or weakness in the lower back, leg or foot.

What Causes Symptoms of a Herniated Disc?

When the disc ruptures and presses outward, a spinal nerve may become trapped by it.

A disc may rupture suddenly in an event such as a fall or an accident, or may occur gradually with repetitive straining of the lumbar spine.

Often people who experience a ruptured disc already have lumbar spinal stenosis, a problem that causes bone spurs and inflammatory tissue to take up some of the precious space around the nerves.

When disc herniation occurs, the space for the nerve is diminished and irritation of the nerve results.

Common Symptoms of a Herniated Disc

Leg Pain

Most commonly experienced over the outside of the thigh, the lower leg, or foot. Shooting pain may be experienced coming all the way down the leg; patients often describe an electric shock type of symptom.


This is the medical term for abnormal sensations such as tingling, numbness, or pins and needles. These symptoms may be experienced in the same region as painful sensations.

Muscle Weakness

Because of the nerve irritation, signals from the brain may be interrupted causing muscle weakness, usually of the ankle. Nerve irritation can also be tested by examining the reflexes of the knee and ankle

Bowel or Bladder Problems

These symptoms are important because it may be a sign of cauda equina syndrome, a possible condition resulting from a herniated disc.

This is a medical emergency, and you should see a doctor immediately if you have problems urinating, having bowel movements, or if you have numbness around your genitals.

All of these symptoms can be due to the irritation of the nerve from the herniated disc.

Does Pain in the Buttocks or Down the Leg Indicate a Herniated Disc?

No. It’s possible that pain in the buttocks and/or down the leg is being caused by active myofascial trigger points in muscles of the lower back, buttocks, or legs.

Active trigger points can be responsible for pain that ranges from bothersome to severe, and can be similar to pain caused by a herniated disc.

In fact, the great majority of lower back pain is not caused by disc herniation, but rather muscular compensation and myofascial trigger points.

What is a Herniated Disc Strategy?

If you have been in an accident and have been injured, it is always prudent to be evaluated by a physician. One or both of the following diagnostic procedures will likely be used to determine if you have a herniated disc:


A diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.


However, if it has been determined through an MRI or X-ray that you do not have a herniated disc, but your pain is chronic and significant, it is highly likely that myofascial trigger points are the cause.

In this case, manual treatment such as that offered by a Neuromuscular Therapist or other hands-on therapist is the most conservative approach available.

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