Symptoms of a slipped disc

Most people who have a slipped disc experience pain which usually begins in the lower back before sometimes spreading to other parts of the body.

However, some people with a slipped disc do not have any obvious symptoms. This is usually because the part of the disc that bulges out is small or does not press on nerves or spinal cord.


In most cases of slipped disc, pain is caused when part of the disc begins to press on one of the nerves that run along the spine. Parts of the sciatic nerve are most commonly affected.

The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body and is made up of several smaller nerves. It runs from the back of the pelvis, through the buttocks and down the legs to the feet.

Pressure placed on the sciatic nerve can cause:

  • a lasting, aching pain
  • numbness
  • a tingling sensation in one or both legs

These symptoms often start in the lower back and travel down the buttocks, into either of the legs.

Read more about sciatica.

Other nerves

If the slipped disc presses on any of the other nerves that run down your spinal cord, your symptoms may include:

Muscle spasms and paralysis tend to occur in your arms, legs and buttocks. The pain you experience when a disc presses on a nerve is often worse when you put pressure on the nerve. This can happen when you cough, sneeze or sit down.

Cauda equina syndrome

Cauda equina syndrome is a serious condition where the nerves at the very bottom of the spinal cord become compressed. Symptoms include:

  • lower back pain
  • numbness in your groin
  • paralysis of one or both legs
  • rectal pain
  • bowel disturbance
  • inability to pass urine or incontinence
  • pain in the inside of your thighs

You should seek medical assistance immediately if you develop these symptoms. Visit your GP or the accident and emergency (A&E) department of your nearest hospital.

If cauda equina syndrome is not promptly treated, the nerves to your bladder and bowel can become permanently damaged.

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