Slipped disc - Symptoms 

Symptoms of a slipped disc 

Sciatica: animation

Sciatica causes pain that radiates out from the lower back, down the buttocks and into one or both of the legs, right down to the calf. This animation explains what sciatica is and what causes it.

Media last reviewed: 18/01/2013

Next review due: 18/01/2015

Back pain guide

Back pain guide

Explore this guide for information about different types of back pain, ways of preventing it and advice on treatment

Most people with a slipped disc experience pain on one side of the body that starts slowly and gets worse over time.

The pain you experience when a disc presses on a nerve is often worse when you put pressure on the nerve. This can happen when you cough, sneeze or sit down.

However, some people with a slipped disc do not have any obvious symptoms. This is usually because the part of the disc that bulges out is small or does not press on the nerves or spinal cord.

The symptoms can also vary depending on whether the slipped disc is in the 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

Sciatica

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 lead to pain in the leg, hip or buttocks. This is known as 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 paralysis
  • muscle spasms – where your muscles contract suddenly and painfully

Muscle spasms and paralysis tend to occur in your arms, legs and buttocks.

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:

You should seek medical assistance immediately if you develop these symptoms. Visit your GP or the accident and emergency (A&E) department of your nearest hospital.

If cauda equina syndrome is not promptly treated, the nerves to your bladder and bowel can become permanently damaged.

Page last reviewed: 01/08/2014

Next review due: 01/08/2016

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