Slipped Discs


A slipped disc is one of the most common causes of lower back pain specifically and generic back pain generally. Although we often refer to this pain as a "slipped disc" the truth is that it is actually a herniated disc. In fact the pain would likely be far less if the disc had actually slipped, rather than rupturing or splitting, which is what actually occurs.

Despite what it is called, a slipped disc is a painful back ailment that requires swift diagnosis and treatment to correct.

What Is A Slipped Disc?

Once you understand what exactly a slipped disc is, you will understand just how inaccurate the term is. There are 24 bones, or vertebrae, in the spine stacked on top of one another. Between each of these bones there are pads of cartilage called discs. These discs contain a gel substance that cushions the bones during human movement; they act as something of a shock absorber for the bones in the spine.

When the tough outer fibers of the discs rupture, this is a slipped disc. These ruptures may place pressure on the spinal cord or nerves in the spine and this is one of the major sources of pain.

Symptoms of a Slipped Disc

If you suspect you may have a slipped disc you should be aware of common symptoms associated with a pinched or prolapsed disc.

In addition to lower back or general back pain, patients with a slipped disc may suffer from sciatica due to the pressure on nerve endings. Due to the path of the sciatic nerve it is very likely to occur with a slipped disc left untreated.

Due to the nerves in the lower back, symptoms may include tingling, numbness, temporary paralysis in the legs and muscle spasms.

Muscle weakness is a fairly common slipped disc symptom and some patients report feeling as though their muscles simply give out after a period of tingling or numbness. The pain or muscle weakness is often much worse during any period of movement because that cushion between the bones is missing.

Report these symptoms to your physician during the diagnostic tests to help them determine the best tests to diagnose your symptoms. These diagnostic tests will include documenting medical history, physical exams and imaging tests such as x-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Can A Slipped Disc Be Prevented?

For most patients with lower back pain a slipped disc occurs to stress on the spine due to improper lifting, poor posture or sitting too long in one position. Some overweight individuals may also find themselves at risk for a slipped disc as well, all of which can be prevented.

Trauma due to an accident or injury is more difficult to prevent, but there are steps we can all take to reduce our risk of a slipped disc.

Losing weight can reduce risk of rupturing spinal discs because it will remove pressure from the spine. Excess weight, particularly around the midsection places plenty of additional pressure on the spine, making it more vulnerable to rupturing.

Exercise will not only help you lose weight, thereby reducing spinal pressure, but it also increases the strength in back muscles, making them less susceptible to strain. Improved muscle strength will help keep the spine stable, while exercises such as running, has been proven to improve posture.

Standing up straight will remove unnecessary pressure from the spine. By allowing the spine to rest in its natural position, it will bear the weight it is meant to hold. Combine good posture with weight loss and your risk for a slipped disc reduces tremendously.

Lifting with your knees is a fantastic way to avoid a slipped disc. Lifting with your back increases your risk of strained muscles, while using the legs takes the pressure off the back. This is especially important if your job requires a lot of lifting.

Treating a Slipped Disc

Treating a slipped disc is relatively simple if the patient and physician work together to come up with a plan that is workable. There are really just 3 options for treating a slipped disc: drug treatments, surgery and therapeutic treatments.

Drug treatments are merely temporary measures that will relieve pain so you can perform daily activities with relative ease. However many of these drugs may be habit forming and include negative side effects that outweigh their benefits.

Therapeutic treatments for a slipped disc include:

  • Chiropractic manipulation
  • Acupuncture
  • Physical therapy
  • Exercise
  • Aqua exercise
  • Heat therapy
  • Electrical muscle stimulation

The effectiveness of these treatments will vary based on your dedication and ability to perform the movements as required. However since there are many options available it is up to you to figure out the treatment combination that provides the most relief.

Surgery is an option for treating a slipped disc however it is not recommended. First of all, very few patients require surgery to treat this problem, and even fewer find non-surgical treatments unsuccessful. Surgery is risky, expensive and requires an extended period of recovery. Finally surgery may require additional invasive treatments that include fusing vertebrae together once the disc has been removed.

Be sure to talk with your physician about the advantages and disadvantages of all treatment options before making a decision.

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