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A herniated disc in the back occurs when the thin wall that contains the gel-like fluid encapsulated between vertebrae — known as the spinal disc — bulges and then ruptures, putting pressure on the nerves of the spine. This condition can be quite painful, and it can result from a variety of actions or conditions. Discs in the spine degrade after time, and as humans age, they are more at risk of experiencing a herniated disc in the back. A sudden impact, compression, or unnatural twisting motion may also result in a herniated disc in the back, and athletes are at exceptionally high risk of herniating a disc in this fashion.
Conditions such as obesity tend to increase the likelihood of a herniated disc in the back. The more weight the spine has to bear, the more likely the spine is to compress. This compression can cause the spinal disc to bulge or burst, which in turn causes pressure on the nerves of the spine. Even sitting or standing for long periods of time can increase the likelihood of a herniated disc, as can physical activities such as heavy lifting, sports, running, or repetitive twisting movements. A lack of adequate exercise can also lead to a herniated disc; the muscles of the back are responsible for supporting the spine at all times, so if those muscles are not strong enough to do their jobs, the spine will compress.
A herniated disc in the back can occur during sudden impacts. They are common in people who are involved in falls or automobile accidents, as the spine can twist or compress suddenly during such incidents. Plenty of rest is needed to allow the herniated disc in the back to repair itself, and light stretching should follow the adequate period of rest. A regular workout routine can help prevent the injury from recurring. In very severe cases, a surgery may be necessary to correct the herniated disc, though this should be considered a last resort, as invasive surgery may not solve the problem and can lead to other health issues.
In many cases, a herniated disc can lead to other health issues. Sciatic nerve pain is common among sufferers of a herniated disc, as the vertebrae and the spinal disc may put pressure on the sciatic nerve. This long nerve runs from the lower back through the hips and buttocks, and down the back of each leg. When compressed, the nerve may send shooting or sharp pains down the length of the legs, or it may cause numbness or weakness.