Due to age, injury, or both, the outer layer of a spinal disc may dry out and form tiny cracks. Sometimes this causes a:
- Bulging disc. Some of the thick gel in the disc may leak into the cracks. The disc may begin to bulge out from between the bones of the spine (vertebrae).
- Ruptured disc. The gel breaks through the capsule.
- Free fragment. Fragments of a ruptured disc may break completely free of the disc and lodge in the spinal canal .
Any of these stages can cause pressure on a nerve root and symptoms of pain and numbness.
It's important to see your doctor if you've had constant or increasing pain for more than 4 to 6 weeks. Getting help early on can lower your chance of having lasting problems, such as the following:
- Pain may come and go. Pain-free periods happen less and less.
- Long-lasting (chronic) and recurring pain can develop because of continued tissue irritation caused by the disc pressing on a nerve.
- Chronic pain syndrome can result from having ongoing pain, causing depression, anxiety, and trouble coping with daily life.
- Symptoms caused by long-term nerve root compression include loss of agility, strength, or sensation in one or both legs and feet.