Under normal circumstances, discs are placed under stress. But, a particular event can place a disc under greater than normal stress. Over time, the accumulated stress can cause the disc to become injured, inflamed, or weakened. This causes recurring back pain in that area, which can become chronic. Eventually, the disc may weaken to the point of bulging out backwards between the two surrounding vertebrae. This is called a herniated disc, which can result in compression and irritation of the nerves. Painful attacks increase in frequency and severity. The pain can spread into the leg and buttocks; numbness, tingling, or a pins-and-needles sensation can occur.
The discs most likely to herniate are those in the cervical and lumbar regions. If the disc bulges against the nerve in the neck area, the affected individual will often feel pain and experience numbness and weakness in his or her arms. A herniated disc is often associated with a sudden sneeze or cough, an injury, or misuse of your neck. The disc bulges and possibly fragments into an opening of a vertebra, putting pressure on and possibly damaging a nearby nerve.
It is important to realize that not all disc bulges cause pain. In fact, ruptured or bulging disks can actually heal on their own with conservative treatment such as physical therapy, medications, bed rest, and education regarding the mechanics of the back. That is why conservative treatment is becoming more common and surgery is used only in very clear cases of nerve root compression.