What is a herniated disc? A herniated disc occurs when the disc between two vertebrae ruptures and its contents pops out. This causes the disc to collapse and puts pressure on the spinal nerves. A herniated disc is usually caused by drying out and degeneration of a disc during the aging process. It can also be acutely caused by improper physical movement. Your back and neck have soft, rubbery discs between every two vertebrae in your spinal column that absorb shock and assist spinal flexibility. Down the center of this spinal column runs the hollow spinal canal, which carries the spinal cord and a bundle of nerve roots. When a disc is herniated, the protrusion of disc contents usually presses on these nerves and stimulates inflammation. The most common symptoms include weakness, tingling or pain in the shoulders or extremities. Sciatica is a term used to refer to a sharp, shooting pain that runs down the full length of the back of one leg that is often caused by disc disease in the lower spine and impinging on the sciatic nerve. Herniated disc occurs most frequently with aging, and most commonly occurs in the lumbar, or lower, spine. With proper treatment, usually a combination of pain medication and physical therapy, disc herniation symptoms can resolve within four to six weeks. Herniated disc is not life threatening, but in some cases it can lead to nerve damage that can be permanently debilitating. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms of nerve compression, such as loss of sensation in the limbs or shoulders, a complete loss of balance, or loss of bladder or bowel control (especially in combination with weakness in your legs). Also seek immediate care for abnormal sensations, weakness, or numbness in the shoulders or extremities on one side of your body. Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for herniated disc but mild symptoms recur or are persistent.