Zocdoc Answers

Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors

"What are the symptoms of a herniated disc?"

ZocdocAnswersWhat are the symptoms of a herniated disc?


I'm a 28-year-old woman and I've been dealing with back pain since I was a teenager. Recently I read that a herniated disc can cause shooting pain, which I sometimes get. What exactly is a herniated disc, and what are the other symptoms of it?


It is necessary to understand a little about the anatomy of an intervertebral disc in order to understand what a 'herniated' disc is. The vertebral column houses the spinal chord (the nervous system connection between your body and your brain) and is made up of articulating bony vertebrae with dense connective tissue discs in between adjacent vertebrae (this provides mobility in the vertebral column). The disc itself can best be thought of as a hockey puck type structure with a dense, fibrous outer ring (the anulus fibrosis) and a squishy, gelatinous inner core (the nucleus pulposus) A herniated disc refers to a rupture in the anulus fibrosis that allows the nucleus pulposus to herniate out into the spinal column. the symptoms of a herniated disc are related to the compression on the nerves in the spine caused by the impinging nucleus pulposus. The disc normally herniates to one side or the other, therefore symptoms are often unilateral. the classic symptom of a herniated disc is shooting pain originating from the lower back and radiating down past the knee. this is caused by compression on the nerve that runs from the low back down the leg. treatment normally consists of NSAIDs (ibuprofen, aleve, etc) and strengthening exercises. Bed rest is NOT recommended, rather studies have shown faster recovery with increased mobility as tolerated. if your symptoms worsen or do not improve over a week or two, you should be seen by a physician for further evaluation. Hope this helps!

Zocdoc Answers is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.