L. A. Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw is returning to the mound after a two-month recovery from a herniated disc in his lower back (often referred to as a lumbar herniated disc).
Kershaw’s symptoms from his lumbar herniated disc were limited largely to lower back pain, but symptoms from a lumbar herniated disc vary widely. Knowing the common symptoms of a lumbar herniated disc can help speed up the diagnosis process—which in turn may lead to a quicker recovery time.
Not all herniated discs lead to pain or discomfort. Watch the Lumbar Herniated Disc Video on our Spine-health website.
What is a lumbar herniated disc?
Before we discuss the symptoms of a lumbar herniated disc, let’s quickly define the term.
Each of your discs is comprised of a durable outer ring—called the annulus—that contains the nucleus pulposus, or a gel-like interior.
When stress is placed on your spine, the outer ring of one of your discs may bulge, crack, or tear. This enables the gel-like interior to herniate—or extrude through the outer ring. The protrusion of your disc may press against a nearby spinal nerve root, or the gel-like interior may leak out and irritate a nerve.
Common symptoms of a lumbar herniated disc
This list of common symptoms may help you determine if you have suffered a lumbar herniated disc injury:
- Nerve pain. You may experience what is commonly referred to as nerve pain in your leg. This sensation may be described as searing, sharp, electric, radiating, or piercing. If this pain radiates down the sciatic nerve in the back of your leg it’s referred to as sciatica—or a radiculopathy.
- Foot drop. You may find it difficult to raise your foot at your ankle, or to point your toes upward towards your body.
- Lower back pain. It’s possible that you will experience a dull or throbbing pain in your lower back—and this pain is often accompanied by stiffness.
- Pain that worsens with movement. Your pain may feel worse after you get up and start moving following a period of prolonged sitting. You may also feel worse after an abrupt movement like a sneeze.
- Pain that worsens from hunching forward. You may find that certain positions, such as slouching or hunching forward, aggravate the pain in your leg.
Of course, not every lumbar herniated disc results in the same symptoms. For example, Kershaw reported that he did not experience any pain or discomfort in his legs following his injury.
Diagnosis of a lumbar herniated disc
If you suspect you have a lumbar herniated disc, your doctor will likely perform a physical examination—which includes a neurological check of your extremities. In some cases, your doctor may also order imaging tests to rule out other causes of your pain.
Kershaw underwent an imaging test known as an MRI following the onset of his lower back pain.
The good news is that your symptoms from a lumbar herniated disc will typically subside within six weeks. In the case of Kershaw, he is back to pitching only nine weeks after suffering his injury.