What a Slipped Disc Feels Like: 4 People Describe A Herniated Disc - GoodRx (2023)

Key takeaways:

  • A herniated disc —also known as a slipped, ruptured, or bulging disc — is an injury of the spine (backbone).

  • It can happen when one of the rubbery discs between your vertebrae moves from its usual position.

  • A slipped disc is a leading cause of neck, arm, back, and leg pain. Those who have experienced it say it causes a throbbing, burning, tingling pain.

What a Slipped Disc Feels Like: 4 People Describe A Herniated Disc - GoodRx (1)

If you’ve ever experienced a sharp, radiating pain that extends from your lower back to your extremities, you may know what a herniated disc feels like.

A herniated disc — sometimes called a slipped, ruptured, or bulging disc — is an injury of the spine that happens when one of the rubbery pads between the vertebrae slips out of place. It can cause pain in the back, neck, and legs. It can also cause numbness or tingling.

Up to about 2% of adults experience a herniated disc each year, and it’s more common as people get older. Here’s what people who have experienced this spinal injury say it feels like.

Airplane turbulence tweaked his back

Gerard Fioravanti says he’s had minor back troubles since he was 30. In 2014, he took his partner to Paris for his partner’s birthday. There was turbulence on the flight back home to Huntington, New York, and Gerard felt something pop in his lower back.

“It took 2 or 3 weeks for it to really herniate,” Gerard says. “It was excruciating pain in my lower back. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t stand.”

The muscle pain was so bad in his right thigh that he went to the emergency room. He got a diagnosis of an L4-L5 herniated disc. It was putting pressure on the nerves, making it impossible to move his legs.

The pain was something Gerard had never felt before.

“It felt like burning fire,” he says.

What a Slipped Disc Feels Like: 4 People Describe A Herniated Disc - GoodRx (2)

Initially, he got epidurals to treat his symptoms. Then he had surgery — two laminectomies to remove bone fragments and then a spinal fusion.

Gerard, a 61-year-old pastry chef, says that, as he recovers, he becomes more aware of his body. His job involves a lot of bending, so he now pays attention to his form.

“You learn body mechanics once something like this happens to you,” he says. “I’m looking forward to better days ahead.”

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What a Slipped Disc Feels Like: 4 People Describe A Herniated Disc - GoodRx (3)

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She tried to ignore it and go salsa dancing

Gina Gotthilf is the co-founder of the tech company Latitud, a platform helping startups in Latin America. Gina, who is 36 and based in Miami, travels a lot. She was working in Brazil, having a typical day, when her back started hurting.

“I wasn’t actually doing anything in particular,” she says. “I was just going about my day very normally.”

Then, her lower back started hurting a little.

What a Slipped Disc Feels Like: 4 People Describe A Herniated Disc - GoodRx (6)

“I kind of ignored it for a little bit,” she says. “I actually went salsa dancing.”

By the next day, her leg hurt and then the pain had spread to her knee.

“Pretty soon, I was basically crying in pain,” she says. She had an MRI scan and got a diagnosis of a herniated disc.

“Nonstop pain isn’t something I’d felt before,” she says. “You’re lying down and you’re in pain, and then you’re, like, ‘I’ll try to move.’ And then moving hurts a lot more. But, then, you can’t find a position that hurts less. So it’s almost like there’s nothing you can do.”For a few days, Gina’s fiancé helped her get from her bedroom to the bathroom.

“There was just no refuge from the pain,” she says.

She’s been doing physical therapy to treat her symptoms and hopes to get back to her regular activities, like yoga and running, soon. And she’s dreaming of better days, when she can go horseback riding again.

The pain felt like an electric shock

The first time Steve Morrow had a herniated disc was in 1999. He was 27 years old and didn’t know why he was experiencing pain in his right calf. He tried to dismiss it, but the pain increased.

He went to the doctor, but the medication he was prescribed didn’t ease the pain. He tried physical therapy and cortisone injections but nothing helped, he says.

“At that point in my life, I had never dealt with any kind of an injury or pain like that,” he says, adding that, later that year, he had back surgery. “It felt like that was the only option.”

After the surgery, he says, he went about his life and started doing things like playing golf again. He used inversion therapy whenever an issue came up.

What a Slipped Disc Feels Like: 4 People Describe A Herniated Disc - GoodRx (7)

But, in 2015, something happened when Steve went to the gym. After doing dead lifts, he didn’t feel quite right the next day. There was stiffness in his pelvic area, so he reached out to a chiropractor and got an MRI. It turned out that he had herniated a disc, again. This caused spinal stenosis (when the spinal canal narrows), which left him hunched over in pain for several months.

“It literally felt like sticking your finger in an electrical outlet,” he says. “Another thing I can tell you, living in Arizona, I’ve been stung by a scorpion a few times. It’s a similar sensation.”

Now 50, Steve says that it is important not to diagnose yourself. He knows now that surgery doesn’t have to be the first option and that everyone has to find out what works best for them as an individual. What works for him is doing yoga and kayaking, which he writes about on his blog Paddle About.

A high school soccer injury

For 27-year-old Jessie Koerner of Chicago, thinking about a herniated disc brings back memories of high school soccer.

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What a Slipped Disc Feels Like: 4 People Describe A Herniated Disc - GoodRx (8)

When she was a junior in high school, in New Jersey, she didn’t know what a herniated disc was. It wasn’t until an injury at a soccer match that she understood the concept. Jessie played goalie and was warming up before a game. She dove for the ball but, afterward, couldn’t get back up.

Jessie’s back was tight and she was in a lot of pain. She couldn’t stand up straight and could feel an agonizing sensation moving down her legs. She had an X-ray and MRI, which showed a herniated disc. So she went to physical therapy for 3 months to reduce the pain.

“It almost feels like you’re throbbing — your lower back down to your legs,” she says. “It’s insanely uncomfortable. It’s almost like a migraine for your lower body.”

When it first happened, Jessie had epidural steroid injections to deal with the pain, in addition to the physical therapy. Today, she’s learned when to push her body and when to ease up.

“It’s better to be smart and listen to your body than try to be a hero,” she says.

What does the doctor say?

What a Slipped Disc Feels Like: 4 People Describe A Herniated Disc - GoodRx (9)

Patricia Pinto-Garcia, MD, MPH

Medical Editor

Discs sit between the vertebrae, the bones that make up your backbone. They’re made of collagen and other gel-like tissue. They act as shock absorbers that keep the vertebrae from rubbing together when you move. They also help with flexibility and protect the nerves that come out of your spinal cord and run through your vertebrae and into the rest of your body.

Discs can slip, rupture, or just wear down over time. Without a disc in place, there’s nothing to distribute the impact of your movements. So even the smallest movement can trigger pain and discomfort.

Depending on which direction it slipped in, the disc can press on the nerves coming out of your spinal cord. This causes symptoms like burning, itching, tingling, and sharp, shooting pains. Slipped discs are more common in the lower spine — where the nerves that control your legs come from — which is why many people experience pain and other symptoms in their lower extremities.

There’s no blanket solution for treating a herniated disc. What works for some people may not work for others, and personal preferences also matter. Some people want to try more invasive options, like surgery, right away, while others want to try physical therapy and other pain-control methods first. The best option is the one that lets you get back to doing what you love.

Want to tell your patient story? Email us at patientstories@goodrx.com.

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FAQs

Is a slipped disc the same as a herniated disc? ›

Herniated disks are also called ruptured disks or slipped disks, although the whole disk does not rupture or slip. Only the small area of the crack is affected. Compared with a bulging disk, a herniated disk is more likely to cause pain because it generally protrudes farther and is more likely to irritate nerve roots.

How does slipped disc feel like? ›

numbness or tingling in your shoulders, back, arms, hands, legs or feet. neck pain. problems bending or straightening your back. muscle weakness.

How much pain would you be in if you slipped a disc? ›

If you have a herniated lumbar disc, you may feel pain that radiates from your low back area, down one or both legs, and sometimes into your feet (called sciatica). You may feel a pain like an electric shock that is severe whether you stand, walk, or sit.

What does an L4 L5 herniated disc feel like? ›

A herniated disc at lumbar segment 4 and 5 (L4-L5) usually causes L5 nerve impingement. In addition to sciatica pain, this type of herniated disc can lead to weakness when raising the big toe and possibly in the ankle, also known as foot drop. Numbness and pain can also be felt on top of the foot.

When is surgery needed for herniated disc? ›

Your doctor might recommend surgery as an option for your herniated disc if: Your symptoms have lasted at least 6 weeks and make it hard to do your normal activities, and other treatments haven't helped. You need to get better quickly because of your job or to get back to your other activities as soon as possible.

Is a herniated disc considered a disability? ›

If a herniated disc causes pain and limits an individual's ability to move or sit still for long periods of time, he or she may be considered unable to perform unskilled work and would qualify for either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

What makes a slipped disc worse? ›

The pain from a herniated disc usually is worse when you are active and gets better when you are resting. Coughing, sneezing, sitting, driving, and bending forward may make the pain worse. The pain gets worse when you make these movements because there is more pressure on the nerve.

What are the symptoms of L5 nerve damage? ›

A pinched L5 nerve root usually results in radiating pain in the foot. This pain can come in the form of numbness, tingling, weakness and shooting and is commonly felt in the big toe, inside of the foot, top of the foot and ankle. Radiculopathy of the L5 nerve may also cause loss of coordination in the foot and toes.

What are the symptoms of L4 L5 nerve damage? ›

Tingling, numbness (pins and needles), and an aching or burning sensation in the leg and on top of the foot are widespread. In severe cases, an L4-L5 slipped disc leads to weakness in the legs or feet. Some may even have an inability to walk, leading to an inability to stand.

How long is bed rest for herniated disc? ›

Rest. Most often 1-2 days of strict bed rest will calm severe back pain. Bed rest should not exceed 48 hours. Once you are back into your daily routine, you should take frequent rest breaks throughout the day- but avoid sitting for long periods of time.

What should you not do with a slipped disc? ›

Everyday Activities to Avoid with Herniated Disc
  • Sitting too much. Sitting puts more stress on your spinal discs, especially when slouching forward in a seat. ...
  • Doing laundry. ...
  • Vacuuming. ...
  • Feeding a pet. ...
  • Strenuous exercise. ...
  • Shoveling snow or gardening. ...
  • Learn more:

Does a herniated disc hurt all the time? ›

Herniated disk pain can sometimes be intermittent. People can have minor pain that's always there or stronger pain that comes and goes depending on the activity they're doing. Varying pain typically has to do with movement and the position of the body.

What nerves do L4 and L5 affect? ›

The sciatic nerve consists of the L4 and L5 nerves plus other sacral nerves. Your sciatic nerve starts in your rear pelvis and runs down the back of your leg, ending in your foot.

What does the L4-L5 nerve control? ›

The L4 and L5 are the two lowest vertebrae of the lumbar spine. Together with the intervertebral disc, joints, nerves, and soft tissues, the L4-L5 spinal motion segment provides a variety of functions, including supporting the upper body and allowing trunk motion in multiple directions.

How common is L5-S1 disc herniation? ›

The most common site for a slipped disc in the lower back is L4-L5. The second most common site of involvement is L5-S1. L3-L4 is the third most common site for herniated lumbar discs.

What does a neurosurgeon do for herniated disc? ›

An incision is placed in the lower back over the area where the disc is herniated. Some bone from the back of the spine may be removed to gain access to the area where the disc is located. Typically, the herniated part of the disc and any extra loose pieces of disc are removed from the disc space.

What percentage of herniated discs require surgery? ›

According to research cited by Harvard Health, about 10 percent of patients with herniated disc issues require surgery after six weeks. Similar research suggests that 90 percent of the time, surgery is not necessary for a herniated disc.

What can a neurologist do for a herniated disc? ›

If surgery is necessary, your neurosurgeon will gauge the severity of your condition and either repair, remove or replace the disc. To remove the damaged portion of the disc, your neurosurgeon will perform a discectomy or microdiscectomy using minimally invasive surgical techniques whenever possible.

Can you get permanent disability for herniated discs? ›

A herniated disc injury may result in a designation of permanent disability and make you eligible for disability benefits from workers' compensation if: The herniation compromises a nerve root or the bundle of nerves that lead out from the spinal cord.

Can I get SSI for herniated disc? ›

If your herniated disc causes you continuous, long-lasting pain, then you may be eligible for monthly financial assistance through the Social Security disability benefits program. Herniated discs in the neck and back can qualify for benefits if your symptoms are severe enough.

Can a herniated disc affect your walking? ›

Summary of background data: Lumbar herniated discs often cause muscle weakness, reduced motor function, and change in walking capacity. The specific effects of a disc herniation on muscle function during gait is poorly documented.

How do you get a slipped disc back in place? ›

Slipped discs usually resolve on their own, but physical therapy or other medications can help with pain. The majority of disc herniations improve on their own within six weeks to three months, as the body releases enzymes to clear away the herniated piece and the pressure on the nerves goes away.

Can stretching make herniated disc worse? ›

One of the best treatments for the symptoms of a herniated disc is stretching exercises. By gently stretching the muscles in the back, their flexibility is improved, helping them stabilize the disc herniation area. Overall endurance and circulation are also improved with herniated disc exercises, and symptoms improve.

Can a chiropractor make a herniated disc worse? ›

Herniated discs are excruciatingly painful and any little movement could further aggravate them. While some may think that chiropractic care will cause more damage to the spine and further aggravate a herniated disc, nothing could be further from the truth.

What nerves does L5-S1 affect? ›

We think that large, extruded L5-S1 disc herniations may affect the superior hypogastric plexus or pre-sacral nerve which is situated anterior to the last lumbar vertebra, the middle sacral artery, the lumbosacral intervertebral disc.

What happens when L5 is damaged? ›

The L5 vertebra is the final section of the lumbar spine (at least, it is for most people). Injury to the L5 spinal nerve bundle can cause numbness and weakness in the legs, but the extent of these symptoms can vary from case to case.

When is L5-S1 surgery necessary? ›

Conditions affecting the L5-S1 spinal motion segment are usually treated with nonsurgical methods. If the lower back and/or leg symptoms worsen or do not improve despite these treatments, or in case of certain medical emergencies, such as tumors or cauda equina syndrome, surgery may be recommended.

What are the symptoms of L4-L5 disc bulge? ›

“Pain may be the first indicator that you have a bulging disc at L4/5. You may have pain in your lower back, near the top of your pelvis. This pain may increase when you press on the muscle next to your spine where the nerve is compressed, or it might suddenly increase with coughing or sneezing,” said Livestrong.

What should I avoid with a L5-S1 herniated disc? ›

Avoid the following exercises:
  • Sit-Ups. Sit-ups are difficult to perform correctly and are not recommended for those with a herniated disc due to the pressure that is put on the lower back. ...
  • Squats. ...
  • Cycling. ...
  • Standing Hamstring Stretch. ...
  • Deadlifts. ...
  • High Impact Aerobic Activity. ...
  • Leg Press. ...
  • Straight Leg Raises.
24 May 2022

Is L4-L5 disc bulge serious? ›

Most importantly, an L4-L5 disc bulge can lead to prolonged pain and other, more serious conditions like spondylolisthesis if you delay treatment. Spondylolisthesis is a condition in which a vertebra shifts or slips, and can cause significant pain that may require surgery to fix.

Is lying down good for herniated disc? ›

The optimal sleeping position for a herniated disc is on your back. Lying on your back keeps your spine in a neutral position so you have less chance of pinching the nerve. For added comfort, nestle a small pillow or rolled-up towel under your knees and lower back.

How do you sit on a couch with a herniated disc? ›

Lean back on the backrest with relaxed shoulders and don't keep your neck in an uncomfortable position. If you plan on sitting on your sofa for a long time, consider putting something behind your back for support, like a rolled-up towel or small pillow.

Do you need bed rest for herniated disc? ›

He explains that it's best to be up about as much as possible; complete bed rest for a herniated disc is not recommended. Many patients with a slipped disc find that sleeping in a recliner chair is most comfortable.

Can a chiropractor fix a slipped disc? ›

Nine out of ten individuals with a herniated disc can heal their condition through non-invasive procedures. If you want to explore conservative options for recovery, chiropractic care is an excellent place to start. A chiropractor can help you heal naturally and relieve your pain.

What is the best medication for herniated disc pain? ›

Your doctor might also prescribe muscle relaxants to ease muscle spasms in your back. And nerve pain medicines, such as amitriptyline (Elavil, Vanatrip), duloxetine (Cymbalta), gabapentin (Neurontin), pregabalin (Lyrica), and tramadol (Ultram) are options to ease nerve-damage pain.

How debilitating is a herniated disc? ›

Herniated discs can cause debilitating pain that radiates down the legs. Due to the severity of the severity of the pain, your mobility can be impacted and you may not be able to stand or sit in the same position for long periods. The numbness and tingling can impact your ability to function as well.

Can a herniated disc affect bowel movements? ›

When a disc herniation is severe, compressing nerves that control bowel and bladder function, you can suffer urinary and/or fecal incontinence. Herniated discs, which are also referred to as slipped discs, commonly occur in the lower back, or lumbar region of the spine.

Can massage make herniated disc worse? ›

There are some types of back pain that can get worse when you get a massage,” says Walsh. Specifically, he says, sciatica (sudden-onset pain that extends down the back and into the butt or legs) stemming from a herniated disc can be aggravated by deep tissue stimulation.

Does herniated disc show up on xray? ›

Imaging tests

Plain X-rays don't detect herniated disks, but they can rule out other causes of back pain, such as an infection, tumor, spinal alignment issues or a broken bone.

Can L5-S1 cause bowel problems? ›

Rule out spine issues

Nonetheless, another study noted that L5/S1 herniation can lead to "bowel dysfunction."

How should I sleep with L4-L5 pain? ›

Sleep on your back with a pillow under your knees

Lay flat on your back. Place a pillow underneath your knees and keep your spine neutral. The pillow is important — it works to keep that curve in your lower back. You may also place a small, rolled up towel under the small of your back for added support.

What is L5-S1 in your back? ›

The lumbosacral joint, also called L5-S1, is a term used to describe a part of the spine. L5-S1 is the exact spot where the ​lumbar spine ends and the sacral spine begins. The lumbosacral joint is the joint that connects these bones.

What does L5 nerve root affect? ›

The L5 nerve supplies the nerves to the muscles that raise the foot and big toe, and consequently, impingement of this nerve may lead to weakness in these muscles. Numbness for L5 runs over the top of the foot.

Can L4-L5 be cured? ›

Treatment of the L4-L5 spinal motion segment typically begins with nonsurgical methods. In cases where the back and/or leg symptoms do not improve with nonsurgical treatments, or in case of certain medical emergencies, surgery may be considered.

What part of your spine controls your legs? ›

Lumbar region

Nerve roots coming from the spinal cord in the lumbar spine control the legs. The lumbar region is where the spinal cord ends (the spinal cord is shorter than the spine). After the lumbar spinal cord ends, it continues as a bundle of nerve roots in the lower back (the cauda equina).

Is L5-S1 disc bulge serious? ›

L5-S1 Disc Bulge Symptoms

This process is absolutely normal and is a part of aging and happens with everyone. L5-S1 bulging discs are most common as they take the stress and weight of the body. The symptoms experienced in the lower back can be terribly painful.

What is the treatment for L5-S1 disc herniation? ›

A herniated disc is frequently treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, if the pain is only mild to moderate. An epidural steroid injection may be performed utilizing a spinal needle under X-ray guidance to direct the medication to the exact level of the disc herniation.

How long is recovery from L5-S1 surgery? ›

It will take about 4 to 6 weeks for you to reach your expected level of mobility and function (this will depend on the severity of your condition and symptoms before the operation). When you wake up after lumbar decompression surgery, your back may feel sore and you'll probably be attached to 1 or more tubes.

How do you fix a slipped disc? ›

Treatment
  1. Rest. One to 2 days of bed rest will usually help relieve back and leg pain. ...
  2. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help relieve pain.
  3. Physical therapy. ...
  4. Epidural steroid injection.

Can a slipped disk heal itself? ›

A herniated disk is also known as a slipped, ruptured or bulging disk. It's one of the most common causes of neck, back and leg pain. Most of the time, herniated disks heal on their own or with simple home-care measures.

Can a chiropractor fix a slipped disc? ›

Nine out of ten individuals with a herniated disc can heal their condition through non-invasive procedures. If you want to explore conservative options for recovery, chiropractic care is an excellent place to start. A chiropractor can help you heal naturally and relieve your pain.

Can you walk with a slipped disc in your back? ›

While it may be tempting to refrain from all physical activity while you're experiencing the pain or discomfort of a slipped disc, this can lead to muscle weakness and joint stiffness. Instead, try to remain as active as possible through stretching or low-impact activities such as walking.

What are the symptoms of L5 nerve damage? ›

A pinched L5 nerve root usually results in radiating pain in the foot. This pain can come in the form of numbness, tingling, weakness and shooting and is commonly felt in the big toe, inside of the foot, top of the foot and ankle. Radiculopathy of the L5 nerve may also cause loss of coordination in the foot and toes.

How do doctors check for slipped disc? ›

MRI. Radio waves and a strong magnetic field are used to create images of the body's internal structures. This test can be used to confirm the location of the herniated disk and to see which nerves are affected.

What percentage of herniated discs require surgery? ›

According to research cited by Harvard Health, about 10 percent of patients with herniated disc issues require surgery after six weeks. Similar research suggests that 90 percent of the time, surgery is not necessary for a herniated disc.

What makes a slipped disc worse? ›

The pain from a herniated disc usually is worse when you are active and gets better when you are resting. Coughing, sneezing, sitting, driving, and bending forward may make the pain worse. The pain gets worse when you make these movements because there is more pressure on the nerve.

Can massage make herniated disc worse? ›

There are some types of back pain that can get worse when you get a massage,” says Walsh. Specifically, he says, sciatica (sudden-onset pain that extends down the back and into the butt or legs) stemming from a herniated disc can be aggravated by deep tissue stimulation.

Can herniated disc go back into place? ›

In theory the disc should be able to be popped back into its natural state, but it is very difficult to just “pop” a herniated disc back into place like a displaced gear. In fact, trying to pop a disc back into place can make the issue worse if the person doing the “popping” doesn't know what they are doing.

What does a chiropractor do for a slipped disc? ›

To treat a herniated disc, your chiropractor will develop a treatment plan that may include spinal manipulation—also known as adjustments—and other chiropractic techniques to help ease your herniated disc symptoms.

What supplements are good for herniated disc? ›

Vitamins frequently recommended for a herniated disc are:
  • Vitamin C – boosts the immune system and acts as an anti-inflammatory.
  • Vitamin D – promotes the absorption of calcium.
  • Vitamin E – boosts the immune system and reduces pain in muscles.
  • Vitamin K – assists with binding calcium to discs.
20 Dec 2019

How long does l5 s1 pain last? ›

Generally, the pain resolves in 4-6 weeks' time. You should restrict your activities that are causing aggravation of pain, pain medications, ice/heat therapy, physical rehabilitation will help in your recovery.

What are the symptoms of L4 L5 nerve damage? ›

Tingling, numbness (pins and needles), and an aching or burning sensation in the leg and on top of the foot are widespread. In severe cases, an L4-L5 slipped disc leads to weakness in the legs or feet. Some may even have an inability to walk, leading to an inability to stand.

How do you sit with a herniated disc? ›

It is proper to sit up straight without slouching. When you slump, you put extra pressure on the discs in the spine and can aggravate your herniated disc. Additionally, you want to ensure your knees are level with your hips. Your hips should be slightly above your knees if you sit at a desk.

Can a herniated disc affect bowel movements? ›

When a disc herniation is severe, compressing nerves that control bowel and bladder function, you can suffer urinary and/or fecal incontinence. Herniated discs, which are also referred to as slipped discs, commonly occur in the lower back, or lumbar region of the spine.

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