Signs and Symptoms of a Herniated Disc

A herniated disc is a spinal injury which can occur in an auto accident.  The discs in your neck and back are like rubbery cushions that sit in between the vertebral bones of your spine.  Doctors often say that the discs are like little jelly donuts – they have a fibrous outside, but are soft on the inside.  When you have a back injury, the fibrous outside can break down and some of the material on the inside will leak out, just like when you squeeze a jelly donut.  When the material on the inside begins to leak out, the disc is said to have a herniation.

Some people will experience little or no pain with a herniation, while others will have a disc where the material irritates nearby nerves and can result in pain, numbness, or weakness into an arm or leg.


There are three key symptoms of a disc herniation:

  • Pain in your arms or legs.  A herniated disc in your back is likely to result in pain into your legs.  A herniated disc in your neck will result in pain in your arms.
  • Numbness or tingling.  Because of nerve irritation, you may have numbness or tingling in your hands or feet.  A neck herniation can impact the nerves of the hand and a lower back herniation can impact the nerves of the legs and feet.
  • Weakness.  Impact on the nerves will result in impact on the surrounding muscles and a herniation can also cause you to stumble or impair your ability to grasp and hold things in your arms.

If you have any of these symptoms after a car accident, you should see a doctor.  Your doctor can start to diagnose spinal injuries by checking your reflexes, muscle strength, walking ability, and ability to feel light touches or pinprick sensations.  If he is concerned about the results of this initial testing, he might order a CT scan or an MRI to get a better picture of your spine.


Treatment of a herniated disc takes many forms.  You may be prescribed over the counter medication, your pain may resolve during physical therapy, or you may be among people whose herniation does not resolve with conservative treatment and requires surgery.

A disc herniation is a permanent injury, meaning that if it goes untreated, it will not resolve on its own.  Unlike a muscle strain, this is not the sort of injury you can expect to get better with time.  If you have been injured in an auto accident and have the symptoms above, you should see a doctor as soon as possible.


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Fairfax, VA 22030
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