Herniated discs cause muscle weakness, as well as other symptoms, as a result of spinal nerve root or spinal cord compression. Spinal nerve roots send signals from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body – and back again – which explains why pain or discomfort in the extremities can often stem from neck and back issues. Should the soft cushions between the vertebrae – known as discs – dislodge or rupture, there is a risk of the adjoining nerve roots and spinal cord becoming compressed. If the nerve roots or spinal cord are under too much pressure, they may be unable to carry signals from the brain to various muscles in the body, making muscles feel weak and unresponsive.
While a herniated back disc may never cause symptoms, if a nerve root has become compressed or inflamed by a herniated disc, it can potentially inhibit muscle reflexes or even basic function in any area of the body innervated by that nerve root. The extent of muscle weakness experienced is entirely dependent on specific spinal nerves being compressed by the herniated disc. In the lumbar spine (lower back), a compressed nerve root can be the cause of lower back pain, but also numbness, tingling and muscle weakness in the legs and feet, typically on one side of the body. Meanwhile, a herniated cervical disc (in the neck) can cause neck pain and weakness in an arm and hand.
In addition to muscle weakness, the most common symptoms of a herniated disc are:
- The sensation of “pins and needles”
- Chronic pain and stiffness
- Numbness and tingling in the extremities
In the event that muscle weakness from a herniated disc is suspected, it is important to visit a physician to both confirm the origin of the problem and develop a course of action. Treatment options to address the weakness can vary. Often, muscle weakness can be treated with a conservative approach – including physical therapy, exercise, stretching, over-the-counter or prescription medication and hot and cold packs, among others. Occasionally, a conservative approach isn’t entirely effective against muscle weakness, in which case a surgical alternative may be suggested.
If this is the diagnosis you have received, contact the knowledgeable staff at Laser Spine Institute for a review of your MRI or CT scan and to learn more about the minimally invasive, outpatient procedures offered at Laser Spine Institute to help you regain your strength. Living with muscle weakness does not need to be permanent, and with advances in modern medicine, there are exciting alternatives to traditional open back disc surgery.