When any sort of disorder occurs in the discs, a number of symptoms can be experienced. Pain is caused when inflammation compresses the nerves that exit from the spine. Nerve endings in the discs can also send pain signals to the brain. Other nerve-related symptoms of disc problems include numbness in the lower extremities, muscle weakness, or bowel/bladder dysfunction (usually caused by compression of the sciatic nerve).
A disc bulge occurs when the outer, protective shell of the disc ruptures and the inner, soft portion bulges out. A disc herniation is diagnosed when this center nucleus bulges out and moves backward toward the spinal cord. Cases of disc desiccation—in which the disc is severely injured and fragmented—often require surgery.
Disc problems are usually the result of one of two factors: disc degeneration or injury and trauma to the spine. Degeneration is a part of the aging process in which the disc becomes less flexible and more vulnerable to damage. Trauma or injury can happen suddenly—as in the case of auto accidents—or over time as the result of poor posture.