A BETTER EXPERIENCE

Book Now

What is a slipped disc?

Overview

First of all, discs don't actually slip out of place. But they do bulge, tear, and herniate, and these episodes can give a range of painful or neurological symptoms to someone.

A herniated disc refers to a problem with one of the rubbery cushions (discs) that sit between the individual bones (vertebrae) that stack to make your spine.

A spinal disc has a soft, jellylike center (nucleus) encased in a tougher, rubbery exterior (annulus). Sometimes called a slipped disc or a ruptured disc, a herniated disc occurs when some of the nucleus pushes out through a tear in the annulus.

A herniated disc, which can occur in any part of the spine, can irritate a nearby nerve. Depending on where the herniated disc is, it can result in pain, numbness or weakness in an arm or leg.

Many people have no symptoms from a herniated disc. Surgery is usually not necessary to relieve the problem.

Symptoms

Most herniated discs occur in the lower back, although they can also occur in the neck. Signs and symptoms depend on where the disc is situated and whether the disc is pressing on a nerve. They usually affect one side of the body.

  • Arm or leg pain. If your herniated disc is in your lower back, you'll typically feel the most pain in your buttocks, thigh and calf. You might have pain in part of the foot, as well. If your herniated disc is in your neck, you'll typically feel the most pain in your shoulder and arm. This pain might shoot into your arm or leg when you cough, sneeze or move into certain positions. Pain is often described as sharp or burning.

  • Numbness or tingling. People who have a herniated disc often have radiating numbness or tingling in the body part served by the affected nerves.

  • Weakness. Muscles served by the affected nerves tend to weaken. This can cause you to stumble, or affect your ability to lift or hold items.

You can have a herniated disc without symptoms. You might not know you have it unless it shows up on a spinal image.

Causes

Disc herniation is most often the result of a gradual, aging-related wear and tear called disc degeneration. As you age, your discs become less flexible and more prone to tearing or rupturing with even a minor strain or twist.

Most people can't pinpoint the cause of their herniated disc. Sometimes, using your back muscles instead of your leg and thigh muscles to lift heavy objects can lead to a herniated disc, as can twisting and turning while lifting. Rarely, a traumatic event such as a fall or a blow to the back is the cause.

Physiotherapy

We recommend coming in to see us if your neck or back pain is sharp, or it travels down your arm or leg. Also, if you are experiencing numbness, tingling or weakness, then come on in and we'll sort that out for you.

Complications

Just above your waist, your spinal cord ends. What continues through the spinal canal is a group of long nerve roots that resemble a horse's tail (cauda equina).

Rarely, disc herniation can compress the entire spinal canal, including all the nerves of the cauda equina. Rarely, emergency surgery might be required to avoid permanent weakness or paralysis.

Seek emergency medical attention if you have:

  • Worsening symptoms. Pain, numbness or weakness can increase to the point that they hamper your daily activities.

  • Bladder or bowel dysfunction. Cauda equina syndrome can cause incontinence or difficulty urinating even with a full bladder.

  • Saddle anesthesia. This progressive loss of sensation affects the areas that would touch a saddle — the inner thighs, back of legs and the area around the rectum.