Rarely, a herniated disc can compress the entire spinal canal, including all the nerves of the cauda equina. In rare cases, emergency surgery may be necessary to prevent permanent weakness or paralysis. A herniated disc (also called bulging, slipping, or rupturing) is a fragment of the disc nucleus that is pushed out of the annulus into the spinal canal through a tear or rupture in the annulus. Discs that become herniated are usually in an early stage of degeneration.
The spinal canal has a limited space, which is inadequate for the spinal nerve and the displaced disc herniated fragment. Because of this displacement, the disc presses on the spinal nerves, often producing pain, which can be severe. Herniated discs can occur anywhere in the spine. Herniated discs are most common in the lower back (lumbar spine), but they also occur in the neck (cervical spine).
The area in which pain is experienced depends on the part of the spine affected. Although a herniated disc can be very painful, most people feel much better with just a few weeks or months of nonsurgical treatment.