Herniated disc numbness is one of the associated neurological symptoms often linked to a bulging disc which is theorized to be causing a pinched nerve. Numbness can be a direct result of neurological compression or can be explained by many other conditions not even related to the coincidental disc herniation.
As with all neck and back pain syndromes, proper diagnosis is difficult to achieve in many cases, leading to a string of failed treatments, a downward spiral of health and one very frustrated patient.
This article will explore how numbness can occur from disc prolapse conditions. We will look at the expectations for symptoms from several different causative mechanisms and will also investigate alternative sources of numbness throughout the body.
Numbness blamed on a lumbar herniated disc will be experienced in the lower back, buttocks, legs and/or feet. Numbness can be enacted by foraminal stenosis or spinal stenosis and can be mild or severe. Numbness may exist alone, but far more often is accompanied by pain, weakness and tingling in the affected areas.
It is crucial to examine the location of the symptoms and make sure they correlate to the expected pattern supporting the diagnosis. In my experience, the actual herniated disc symptoms are often too far ranging to support the suspected diagnostic theory.
Cervical herniated discs are often blamed for causing numbness in the neck, upper back, shoulder, arms and/or hands. Once again, the symptom of numbness may be the only complaint in rare instances, but is far more likely to exist in combination with pain, tingling, or weakness of the surrounding tissues.
As with lumbar disc issues, herniated discs in the neck are typically blamed for causing symptoms which are too diverse to be explained from the single level herniated disc diagnosis. This is a very common occurrence leading to a long history of failed disc treatments and often unnecessary disc surgery.
Here are some focused topical discussions detailing specific types of numbness caused by disc pathologies:
Herniated disc paresthesia describes a combination of numbness and tingling linked to a disc problem within the vertebral column.
Numbness comes in 2 distinct forms:
Complete or objective numbness is the actual clinically proven result of a real pinched nerve condition. When a nerve is truly compressed, it will not signal at all. This is why chronic pain is not a typical symptom of a pinched nerve. This type of numbness is also the desired and intended effect of many neurological surgeries, such as nerve burning, tying and cutting, to enact pain relief from a diagnosed problematic nerve root. In my experience, objective numbness is rather rare in patients who are diagnosed with pinched nerves, but when it does exist, the likelihood of the diagnosis being correct rises considerably.
Far more common is the second type of numbness, called subjective numbness. This is when the area has intermittent feeling and feels heavy and dead. However, sensation is present and can be confirmed by a neurologist. This expression is far more likely in pinched nerve patients and is rarely the result of any type of diagnosed compression syndrome. Subjective numbness is sometimes a good diagnostic indicator of ischemia, while objective numbness is more typically the sign that a nerve is truly anatomically compressed.
An important note: When a herniation is suspected of causing symptomatic spinal stenosis, either form of numbness may exist. Fortunately, minor and moderate stenosis rarely causes any symptoms and herniations seldom cause symptomatic stenosis without other contributory factors. However, when a herniation does constrict the spinal cord or cauda equina, symptoms might be incredibly diverse and disabling.
Numbness can also result from many localized and systemic processes, such as circulatory issues, tumors and disease. Always be sure to seek evaluation for any numb areas of your anatomy.