Back pain radiating into the leg or arm can indicate a herniated disc. A herniated disc is a breakthrough of the gelatinous nucleus of a disc through its fibrous ring. As a result, it can press on nerves and cause pain.
The cause is often an overload with previous damage to the intervertebral discs (a herniated disc) but can also occur without an external cause. Because of aging, the water content and thus the elasticity of the intervertebral disc decrease. The supporting fibre ring becomes more brittle and gives way more quickly. On the other hand, being overweight, lack of exercise, constant sitting and heavy lifting put increased strain on the intervertebral discs.
Symptoms of a herniated disc are: severe pain, often radiating to the extremities with a feeling of numbness in the area supplied by the pinched nerve root and occasionally signs of paralysis.
Conservative therapy without surgery, is successful in over 90% of herniated disc cases. The conservative forms of therapy used depend on the clinical appearance and the severity of the symptoms. An operation is only rarely necessary, for example; if conservative therapy fails, the herniated disc causes severe, therapy-resistant pain or triggers paralysis.