Disc is a protective circular
shock absorbing pad between the bones of the spine in the back. The discs are
responsible for cushioning the vertebrae when one jumps or runs. Disc does not
actually 'slip' but does get ruptured. This condition of slipped disc is also
known as a herniated or prolapsed disc.
The discs are made of gel-like
substance which is soft and fibrous yet tough. In case of a slipped disc, the
gel inside bulges and protrudes outward from in between the vertebrae. The
leaky jelly substance places pressure on the spinal cord or on a single nerve
fiber. Slipped disc can cause pain either around the damaged disc or anywhere
along the area controlled by that nerve.
Where does slipped disc occur?
A slipped disc occurs most often in the lumbar region of
the spine, particularly at the L4-L5 and L5-S1 levels. L stands for Lumbar and
S for Sacral. This is mainly because lumbar spine carries most of the body
Why does slipped disc occur?
- Irregular lifestyle including lack of exercise and
- Natural biochemical changes which can occur as the
body ages can cause discs to gradually dry out affecting disc strength.
- Bad posture and incorrect body mechanics and hard
physical labor can place additional stress on the spine.
- Improper lifting, twisting or turning, excessive
strain and sudden forceful trauma can cause slipped disc although such
cases are rare.
- Above all, age and associated degeneration that
results in loss of elasticity of the discs and supporting structure lead
to slipped disc condition.
Daily wear and tear, injury, heavy lifting or twisting can all contribute to disc herniation. A slipped disc
can develop suddenly or gradually over weeks or months.
At what age does slipped disc occur?
Most often slipped disc in the lower back is observed between the ages 30 to 50. People between these ages are
vulnerable as the elasticity and water content of the nucleus normally decrease
with age. In case of cervical vertebrae around the neck, slipped discs are seen
between the ages 40 to 60.
Symptoms of slipped disc
A slipped disc produces serious pain in the back or neck areas. Numbness and weakness, tingling or pain in the
shoulder, neck, arm and hand, pain in the buttocks, back, legs or feet,
numbness and tingling around the anus and genitals and pain down the back of
each leg from the buttocks to the knees and pain with movement, straining,
coughing or doing leg raises are all symptoms of the slipped disc condition.
Slipped disc diagnosis
A physical examination is done and history including other illnesses, prior spine problems and injuries is noted.
Diagnostic tests of blood and urine are not done immediately though they may be
done at a later stage if basic treatments fail and to improve the condition of
Imaging studies are often taken and they include
X-rays, CT scans in case of prolapsed disc and MRI studies of the back. Bone
scans help to detect infection, fractures and tumors and are done for emergency
Treatment for slipped disc
Treatment options for slipped disc vary on the
seriousness of the condition and the age of the patient. The health care
provider very often prescribes bed rest and limited activity for several days.
Gradual increase in activity is suggested over a period of time. Complete bed
rest is not recommended as the chances are patients with back pain recover more
quickly with normal activities such as lifting, bending with minimal strain.
Treatment with ice and cold packs in the early
stages of injury is common. It is switched to heat later. In case the pain and symptoms are not caused
by sudden injury, heat may be used in the early stages as well.
Physical therapy in the form of exercise and
massage should be helpful. It is always advised to consult the doctor before resuming
any stressful activity.
As for medications for slipped disc,
anti-inflammatory medications are recommended. In addition, medicines that
relax the surrounding muscles tightness and spasms are also advised for some
patients. Steroids are sometimes prescribed for a short duration.
If the above measures are not successful, then
surgery is the last option that is considered. Surgery is advised only in
extreme cases or in those with high potential for permanent nerve damage. Time
is the best healer and many cases are resolved with basic spinal care.
Although aging is inevitable, certain healthy
modifications in lifestyle can help prevent the occurrence of slipped disc. Regular
exercise decreases hardening and early breakdown of discs and helps in
improving the overall strength of the supporting muscles as well.
It is essential to use proper techniques while
performing strenuous exercises inclusive of lifting. Lifting should be done
with the legs performing the task and not the back. Spinal braces are sometimes
advised during heavy lifting. However, never be encouraged to exceed the safe
lifting limits even with a spine brace.