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What Does a Ruptured Disc Feel Like in the Lower Back?


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How to Recognize a Ruptured Disc in the Lower Back

A ruptured disc, also known as a herniated or slipped disc, is a common condition that affects the spine. It occurs when one of the discs that cushion the vertebrae (the bones of the spine) tears and leaks some of its gel-like inner material. This can irritate or compress the nearby nerves, causing pain and other symptoms. This article will explore what a ruptured disc feels like in the lower back, what causes it, how it is diagnosed, and how it is treated.


The most common symptom of a ruptured disc in the lower back is sciatica, which refers to sharp, shooting pain that travels from the lower back, through the buttock, and down the back of the leg and usually affects only one side of the body. The pain may be worse when you cough, sneeze, bend, or sit. You may also experience numbness, tingling, or weakness in the affected leg or foot.

Other symptoms of a ruptured disc in the lower back may include:

  • Low back pain – You may feel a dull ache or a throbbing pain in your lower back. The pain may be constant or intermittent and may vary in intensity.
  • Muscle spasms – You may have involuntary contractions or tightness in the muscles of your lower back or leg. This can make it hard to move or relax.
  • Reduced mobility – You may have difficulty bending, twisting, or lifting objects. You may also have trouble walking, standing, or sitting for long periods of time.
  • Bladder or bowel problems – In rare cases, a ruptured disc in the lower back can affect the nerves that control bladder or bowel function. This can cause urinary or fecal incontinence, retention, or urgency. This is a medical emergency and requires immediate attention.


A ruptured disc in the lower back can be caused by various factors, such as:

  • Aging – As you get older, your discs lose some of their water content and become less flexible and more prone to tearing or rupturing. This is called disc degeneration and is a normal part of aging.
  • Injury – A sudden trauma, such as a fall, a car accident, or a sports injury, can damage your discs and cause them to rupture. This can happen even if you do not feel any pain at the time of the injury.
  • Overuse – Repeated or prolonged activities that put stress on your lower back, such as lifting heavy objects, bending, twisting, or sitting, can wear out your discs and make them more vulnerable to rupture.
  • Genetics – Some people may have inherited traits that make their discs more susceptible to rupture, such as a weak disc wall or a narrow spinal canal.


To diagnose a ruptured disc in the lower back, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, medical history, and physical activities. The doctor will also perform a physical examination to check your reflexes, muscle strength, sensation, and range of motion. The doctor may also order some tests, such as:

  • X-ray – This can show the alignment and structure of your spine and rule out other causes of back pain, such as fractures or arthritis.
  • MRI – This can provide detailed images of your spine and show the location and extent of the disc rupture and nerve compression.
  • CT scan – This can also show your spine and disc rupture, especially if you have metal implants or devices that interfere with MRI.
  • Nerve conduction studies – This can measure the electrical impulses and speed of your nerves and detect any nerve damage or dysfunction.


The treatment of a ruptured disc in the lower back depends on the severity of your symptoms and your overall health. Most cases of ruptured discs in the lower back can be treated conservatively without surgery. The main goals of treatment are to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and restore function. Some of the treatment options include:

  • Medication – Your doctor may prescribe or recommend some medications to help you manage your pain and inflammation, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, narcotics, or nerve pain medications.
  • Physical therapy – A physical therapist can teach you some exercises and stretches to strengthen your core muscles, improve your posture, and increase your flexibility and mobility. The physical therapist can also use modalities such as heat, ice, ultrasound, or electrical stimulation to ease your pain and spasms.
  • Injections – Your doctor may inject corticosteroids, anesthetics, or other substances into or near your spine to reduce inflammation, numb the pain, or block the nerve signals. These injections are usually done under X-ray guidance and may provide temporary or long-term relief.
  • Surgery – If your symptoms do not improve with conservative treatment, or if you have severe or progressive nerve damage, bladder or bowel problems, or spinal instability, you may need surgery to remove the ruptured disc and decompress the nerve. There are different types of surgery for a ruptured disc in the lower back, such as microdiscectomy, laminectomy, and fusion. The type of surgery depends on your specific condition and preference. Surgery can provide immediate or gradual relief, but it also carries some risks and complications, such as infection, bleeding, nerve injury, and failed back syndrome.

A ruptured disc in the lower back is a common and often painful condition that can affect your quality of life. However, with proper diagnosis and treatment, you can recover from it and resume your normal activities. If you have any symptoms of a ruptured disc in the lower back, you should consult your doctor and follow his or her advice.

If you have a herniated disc in your lower back that is not responding to conservative treatment, a lumbar 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 time frame. 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 today.

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