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A herniated disk may occur suddenly with a fall or accident, or it may occur gradually with repetitive straining of the spine. Often people with a herniated disk already have spinal stenosis, a problem that causes narrowing of the space around the spinal cord and spinal nerves. When a herniated disk occurs, the space for the nerves is further diminished, and irritation of the nerve results. The cause of a herniated disk often can be identified if someone develops severe middle-back pain immediately after an accident or lifting a heavy object.
Most people with a disk injury do not recall an event that provoked their pain, and the cause cannot be determined. People who perform heavy labor and use proper lifting techniques or play sports have nearly the same rate of injury as people who do not.