A herniated disk occurs when the spinal disc — a capsule filled with gel-like fluid that sits between each vertebrae — ruptures and puts pressure on the nerves that run through and around the spinal column. Back pain from a herniated disk may result, though some people do not experience any pain at all from a herniated disk. If pain does occur, it may manifest itself as a constant pain on one side of the body, and back pain is not the only kind of pain a herniated disk can cause. Pain throughout other parts of the body may be experienced, depending on the location of the herniation.
Back pain from a herniated disk may occur in the lower back. One of the indicators that the pain is a result of a herniated disk is the accompaniment of sciatica, which occurs when the sciatic nerve that runs from the lower back all the way down each leg becomes compressed. A herniated disk can cause such compression, leading to sharp back pain or even sharp pain in the buttocks, hips, or legs. In some cases, sciatica can also lead to numbness in these areas, or weakness and limited mobility.
If the spinal disk ruptures in another part of the spine, other parts of the body can be affected. Pain from a herniated disk is generally only felt on one side of the body, and the affected nerves can cause pain not only in the back, but also in areas of the body that are serviced by that nerve. An arm and shoulder can experience pain, for example, or simply one hip. Such pains are usually constant; they do not pulsate or come and go like other injuries might. In some cases, the pain can lead to limited mobility and constant discomfort as a result.
Only a medical professional can help you determine whether the pain you are experiencing is really caused by a herniated disk. An x-ray or MRI can reveal damage to the spinal disk and eliminate other possibilities for the cause of the pain, such as tumors. Sometimes, nerve pain and back pain can be caused by muscle tightness or muscle strains, and it can be difficult to determine whether a disk herniation is partly or fully to blame. Muscle strains usually heal on their own after several days or weeks, and the pain tends to come and go depending on how much rest a sufferer gets; pain from a herniated disk is usually constant.