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What Are the Symptoms of a Ruptured Disc?


A "ruptured" spinal disc occurs when inner disc material seeps through the outside disc wall due to some type of damage or weakness. Also referred to as herniated discs, ruptured discs often occur in the lower back. As is true with any spine-related injury, it is best to seek treatment if you suspect you may have a ruptured disc. This article explains how to tell if you might have a herniated, or ruptured, disc.

Severe Lower Back Pain with Sciatica

Lower spine pain by itself has many possible causes, including muscle strain. A ruptured disc may be the source of lower back pain if severe lumbar spine pain is coupled with
sciatica, referring to shooting pain and other symptoms that extend to the legs and lower body area, such as:

• Pain extending into the buttocks, hips, thighs, and feet
• Weakness in the legs or lower body
• Discomfort primarily affecting one leg

If a ruptured disc is affecting the sciatic nerve, which starts in the lower back area and moves downward, you may also notice tingling sensations. There may be some numbness in the lower back area as well.

Pain/Discomfort Triggered by Certain Movements or Actions

Regular movements can sometimes cause pain if you have a ruptured disc. For example, bending often triggers pain stemming from a ruptured or
herniated disc. Other movements or actions that tend to worsen disc-related issues of this nature include:

• Going from a standing to a sitting position or vice versa
• Coughing and similar forceful actions
• Reaching or stretching
• Leaning excessively forward or backward

Discomfort that Comes and Goes

Symptoms related to a ruptured lumbar spine disc sometimes go away entirely after a few weeks. However, when you are regularly noticing symptoms, your pain is more likely to be sporadic rather than remain constant. The reason for the on-again, off-again discomfort is because the affected part of the disc usually does not constantly irritate nearby nerves. For example, you may notice relief when you lie down or shift your body weight.

Getting a Diagnosis

The only way to know with certainty if you have a ruptured disc is to see your doctor or a specialist. This process will likely involve a discussion of the symptoms you are experiencing. If you describe your symptoms accurately and in detail, your doctor may be able to make a fairly reliable diagnosis without diagnostic tests. If there is any doubt, an image test such as an MRI is typically ordered so a visual assessment can be done.

Asymptomatic Ruptured Discs

It is important to understand that not all spinal disc problems produce noticeable symptoms, and this can apply to a ruptured disc. This is more likely to be the case if only a small amount of disc material is protruding outward. You may also have little or no discomfort if adjacent nerves are not yet irritated due to the location of the affected disc.

If you have a herniated disc that is not responding to conservative treatment, a discectomy may be discussed and potentially recommended. Although this is generally a very successful procedure, having a large hole in the outer ring of the disc more than doubles the risk of needing another operation. A new treatment, Barricaid, is a bone-anchored device that closes this hole, and 95 percent of Barricaid patients did not undergo a reoperation due to reherniation in a 2-year study timeframe. This treatment is done immediately following the discectomy—during the same operation—and does not require any additional incisions or time in the hospital. 

If you have any questions about the Barricaid treatment, ask your doctor or contact us at 844-288-7474.

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