Between the vertebrae of the spine are 23 discs which act as a spacer and shock absorber. These discs have soft, gel-like centers surrounded by layers of fibrous tissues. This spinal disc becomes more rigid with age. In a young individual, the disc is soft and elastic, but like other structures in the body, the disc gradually loses its elasticity and is more vulnerable to injury. In fact, even in individuals in their 20's, MRIs often show early evidence of disc deterioration. As the spinal disc becomes less elastic, it can rupture. When the disc ruptures, a portion of the spinal disc pushes outside its normal boundary--this is called a herniated disc. When a herniated disc bulges out from between the vertebrae, the spinal nerves and spinal cord can become pinched. There is normally a little extra space around the spinal cord and spinal nerves, but if enough of the herniated disc is pushed out of place, then these structures may be compressed.
Symptoms: Pain - the severity and location of the pain depend upon which disc is herniated and how large the herniation is. If the herniation is in the back, the pain may spread over the buttocks, down the back of one thigh and into the calf. Pain may be in one or both legs. If the herniation is in the neck, the pain may spread down one or both arms and even into the hands and fingers. Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the extremities. Bowel or bladder changes may occur. In severe cases, inability to find comfort even lying down or fully straighten your neck or back.