Lower back pain is often the main symptom of a slipped disc.

The pain is caused by a disc pressing on a nerve, and is often worse when pressure is placed on the nerve. This can happen when you cough, sneeze or sit down.

The pain will usually settle down in one to three months, but in some cases it can last much longer and become chronic. There's also a risk of recurrence.

The symptoms can also vary depending on whether the slipped disc is in your neck or lower back.

Slipped disc in the neck

A slipped disc in the neck can cause:

  • neck pain during movement 
  • numbness or a tingling sensation in the neck, shoulder, arm or hand
  • weakness in certain muscles, which limits your range of movement

Slipped disc in the lower back

A slipped disc in the lower back can cause:

  • back pain during movement
  • numbness or a tingling sensation in the back, buttocks, genitals, legs or feet


The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body and is made up of several smaller nerves. It runs from the back of the pelvis, through the buttocks, and down the legs to the feet.

If a slipped disc is putting pressure on the sciatic nerve, it can cause pain in the leg, hip or buttocks. This is called sciatica.

Other nerves

If the slipped disc presses on any of the other nerves that run down your spinal cord, your symptoms may include:

  • muscle weakness 
  • numbness and tingling 

Muscle weakness or numbness and tingling may occur in your arm or leg depending on where the slipped disc is.

Cauda equina syndrome

Cauda equina syndrome is a serious condition where the nerves at the very bottom of the spinal cord become compressed.

Symptoms include:

Seek immediate medical assistance if you develop these symptoms. Visit your GP or your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department.

If cauda equina syndrome isn't treated quickly, the nerves to your bladder and bowel can be permanently damaged.

Page last reviewed: 13/10/2016

Next review due: 13/10/2019