When you experience back pain that shoots down your leg, everyday activities become difficult or intolerable. Ending the pain becomes increasingly important.

One cause of back pain that shoots down your leg is a herniated disc, sometimes called a ruptured disc.

Your spine is made up of bones (vertebrae) cushioned by small pads of cartilage or by discs consisting of a tough outer layer (annulus) and a soft inner jelly layer (nucleus pulposus).

When a herniated disc occurs in your back, a small portion of the nucleus pulposus pushes out through a tear in the annulus into the spinal canal. This can irritate a nerve and result in pain, numbness or weakness in your leg or foot.

In the neck (cervical spine), a nerve can become irritated and result in pain, numbness or weakness in your arm or hand.
A herniated disc generally gets better with conservative treatment. Therefore, surgery for a herniated disc is usually not necessary.

You can have a herniated disc without knowing it, and herniated discs sometimes are visible on spinal images of the MRIs of people who have no symptoms of a disc problem. But, some herniated discs can be very painful.

The most common signs and symptoms of a herniated disc are:
* Sciatica — a radiating, aching pain, that sometimes includes tingling and numbness that starts in your buttocks and extends down the back or side of one leg.
* Pain, numbness or weakness in one leg, or in your arm.
* Low back pain or leg pain that worsens when you sit, cough or sneeze.

You need to seek prompt medical attention if:            
* You lose control of your bladder or bowels.
* You develop increased numbness or weakness in one or both legs or arms.
* You experience back or neck pain that is disabling for several days.  

To accurately diagnose a herniated disc, your physician should perform a thorough evaluation that may include tests such as a MRI, CT scan or Nerve Conduction/EMG.

Approximately 90 percent of patients with herniated discs can be treated without surgery.  However, when the pain from the disc continues, an epidural steroid injection using x-ray guidance can be helpful.  During this procedure, an anti-inflammatory medication is injected around the inflamed disc and nerves to decrease the pain and irritation.

Physical therapy is important for nearly everyone who suffers with disc disease. Physical therapists teach you how to properly lift, dress, walk, sit and perform other daily activities to reduce back and leg pain when the herniation is in the back(lumbar spine). They can also demonstrate proper postural recommendations for herniations that occur in the neck (cervical spine).

Additionally, a therapist will teach you the most effective exercises to strengthen the muscles that help to support the spine. In physical therapy, you will also learn how to increase the flexibility in your spine and legs or arms.

Remember, with appropriate treatment 90% of patients with a herniated disc can be treated with non-surgical treatment.

©2011 Winifred D. Bragg, MD. All Rights Reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Winifred D.Bragg, MD is a highly sought after keynote speaker, author of Knockoutpain(R):Secrets to Maintain a Healthy Back.

She is the CEO of the Spine and Orthopedic Pain Center where she uses state of the art techniques to provide patients with non-surgical solutions to treat orthopedic problems of the upper and lower extremities as well as spinal conditions.

She delivers powerful messages on the importance of maintaining a positive attitude and a commitment to self-improvement as key elements to succeed.