Neck and back pain aren’t the only symptoms of a herniated disc. In fact, for many patients, symptoms first present in the extremities. Because of this, it’s important to know the relationship between a herniated disc and extremity nerve function. Let’s jump right in:
The intervertebral discs of the spine are made up of an outer ring of cartilage and an inner gel-like substance.
Illustration 1- Intervertebral disc lie between adjacent vertebrae
The discs help with support and movement by acting as “shock absorbers”. A herniated or ruptured disc occurs when the nucleus protrudes through the outer ring of cartilage—placing pressure on the spinal cord/nerves.
Illustration 2- A herniated disc pinches the nerve
Because the spinal nerves branch out to innervate the extremities, patients can experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms that seem to be coming from the extremities.
Extremity Related Symptoms of a Lumbar Herniated Disc
The lumbar vertebrae are those found in the lower back. When a lumbar disc herniates, a common symptom is a sharp, shooting pain that starts in the buttocks and runs down the back of the leg. Commonly known as “sciatica”, this type of pain can be aggravating, even debilitating.
This pain is due to the herniated disc compressing the roots that make up the sciatic nerve, which then sends pain signals through the entire nerve, which extends from the lower back through the leg. Other associated symptoms often include tingling, numbness and weakness in the leg.
Illustration 3- The sciatic nerve runs down the lower back, buttocks, and back of the leg. A herniated lumbar disc can pinch the sciatic nerve and cause sciatica.
Extremity Related Symptoms of a Cervical Herniated Disc
The cervical, or neck, vertebral discs herniate less often than those in the lumbar region. However, symptoms are not less severe. A herniated cervical disc can cause pain, weakness, numbness, and tingling in the neck, shoulder, arm, and/or hand, which is referred to as “radiculopathy”. Similar to Sciatica, this is caused by the herniated portion of the disc compressing a nerve that transmits impulses to the shoulders, arms or hands.
Because these body parts are used throughout daily activities, a herniated cervical disc can decrease quality of life and ability to function.
Treating Herniated Discs
If you can relate to the information in this post or are experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms, please feel free to contact our office to arrange an appointment with one of our Orthopedic Spine Surgeons. The spine specialists at New Jersey Spinal Medicine and Surgery treat conditions of the cervical and lumbar spine using both non-surgical and surgical modalities. New Jersey Spinal Medicine and Surgery is led by Dr. Dante Implicito and Dr. John Koerner and has offices in Glen Rock and Maywood, NJ. Both physicians have extensive training and experience in the utilization of Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery techniques as well as non-surgical techniques.
A detailed medical history, physical examination, and medical imaging studies will be used to determine if your symptoms are due to a herniated disc, or other lower back/nerve related problem. Once a diagnosis has been made, effective treatment options will be discussed. You’ll be well on your way to a full recovery.