Herniated Disk | Symptoms

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What are the signs of a herniated disk?

When part of a disk presses on a nerve, it can cause pain in the back and the legs. The location of the pain depends on which disk is weak. How bad the pain is depends on how much of the disk is pressing on the nerve. In most people with herniated disks, the pain spreads over the buttocks and goes down the back of one thigh and into the calf. This is known as sciatica because the pain travels along the path of the sciatic nerve. Some people have pain in both legs. In some people, the legs or feet feel numb or tingly.

The pain from a herniated disk is usually worse when you're active and gets better when you're resting. Coughing, sneezing, sitting, driving and bending forward may make the pain worse. The pain gets worse because these movements put more pressure on the nerve.

People who have painful herniated disks often try to change positions to reduce the pain. You may have found that holding yourself up with your hands while you are sitting helps the pain. Shifting your weight to one side may also help.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 03/14
Created: 02/99

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