Slipped Disc (also known as a prolapsed disc or herniated disc) is when a soft cushion of tissue between the bones in your spine (vertebrae) pushes out.
When the disc presses on nerves, it causes pain. Normally it gets better slowly with rest, painkillers, and gentle exercise. Sometimes the pain symptoms of a slipped disc can be the same as other back pain caused by other things, such as a sprain, a strain, or another condition.
In some cases, a slipped disc will cause no symptoms and many people will never realise that they have had a slipped disc. If you are worried about a slipped disc, contact one of our experts at Ahmeys for advice and treatment.
- Pain in the lower back or pain in the neck
- Tingling or numbness in your back, arms, shoulders, hands, legs, or feet
- Problems straightening or bending the back
- Muscle weakness
- Pain in the buttocks, legs, or hips if the disc is pressing on the sciatic nerve. See sciatica in musculoskeletal pain for more details
When to see an expert at Ahmeys
If you are experiencing the symptoms above, your symptoms are getting worse, have not gone away within a few weeks or months, have not gone away with home treatment and self-care, or have begun to affect your mobility and day to day life, we recommend that you call Ahmeys to book an appointment.
One of our experts can check your symptoms and conduct tests to confirm a diagnosis and rule out any other problems. Call Ahmeys to make an appointment if:
- Painkillers are not helping
- The pain hasn’t gone away within a month
- You feel hot and shivery and have a very high temperature (fever)
- The pain is worse at night
- There is swelling in your back
- You have pain accompanied by unexpected weight loss
When to seek emergency care
Occasionally, slipped disc symptoms can indicate a more severe medical problem. Seek immediate care if:
- Your slipped disc symptoms are causing new bladder or bowel problems
- Your slipped disc is the result of a serious fall, injury, or blow to your back
- Your slipped disc symptoms are causing numbness around your anus or genitals
- You have lost the feeling in one or both of your legs
Disc herniation is usually the result of gradual wear and tear as the person gets older. This is called disc degeneration.
As you age, your spinal discs lose some of their water content and become less flexible and prone to tearing.
Most people can’t pinpoint the exact cause of a slipped disc and only notice the symptoms after the incident has occurred. A slipped disc can potentially be caused by:
- Using your back muscles instead of your leg muscles to lift heavy objects
- Twisting and turning while lifting large, heavy objects
- A traumatic event, such as a blow or a fall
- Excess body weight causing extra stress on the discs in your lower back
- Inactivity and lack of exercise
- Exercising too hard
- Occupation, meaning that you have a physically demanding job and repeatedly carry out tasks such as lifting, pulling, bending sideways, and twisting or operating machinery that vibrates
- Genetics, some people with a family history of slipped discs, can be genetically predisposed to have slipped discs themselves
If you are concerned about having a slipped disc, call Ahmeys to book an appointment with one of our experts to discuss your symptoms and potential treatments.
An expert at Ahmeys will review your symptoms and usually be able to tell whether you have a slipped disc. One of our experts may potentially perform the following diagnostic tests:
- Physical examination where they ask you to raise your arms or do simple leg exercises to find out where the slipped disc is
- Physical observation of your back if there is swelling
- If your symptoms do not improve with prescribed treatment, one of our experts may recommend further tests, such as an MRI scan. They may also recommend a referral to a physiotherapist
Usually, a slipped disc can be treated by rest, painkillers, and gentle exercise. One of our experts at Ahmeys may recommend the following:
- Over the counter (OTC) pain relievers: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, to help control pain and reduce inflammation
- Menthol or capsaicin creams: to apply topically to the affected area and block the pain signals from your joints
- Opioids: can be used to relieve severe pain
- Analgesics: such as hydrocodone or acetaminophen for pain relief
- Steroid injections: Steroids containing manmade versions of the hormone cortisol can be used to treat painful back problems. Injections of cortisone (an anti-inflammatory medication) can be made directly into the affected area (usually after a local anesthetic is used to numb the area and reduce pain), to help decrease inflammation around the nerve roots
Very few people require surgery for a slipped disc. However, if you have unrelenting pain that does not improve with other treatments and are experiencing worsening pain, muscle weakness, and numbness, one of our experts may recommend surgery.
The common procedure used to correct a slipped disc when other treatments have failed is called lumbar decompression surgery. Lumbar decompression surgery can be one or more of the three following procedures:
- Discectomy: a procedure where a portion of or the entire disc that is pressing on the nerve root is removed through an incision on your back or neck. This is one of the most common surgeries for a herniated disc in the lumbar region
- Laminectomy: a procedure where a section of bone is removed from one of your spinal bones (vertebrae) to relieve pressure on the affected nerve
- Spinal fusion: a procedure where two or more vertebrae are joined together with a section of bone to strengthen your spine
Supportive and alternative therapies
- Physiotherapy Therapy
- Physiotherapy helps to restore movement and function, can help you to increase your flexibility and strengthen your muscles. Regular physiotherapy can release stiff muscles and soft tissues to reduce pain and the use of these techniques can help to prevent pain from coming back
- Osteopathy: physical manipulation, stretching, and massaging the muscles and joints to prevent and relieve health problems and pain
How to manage your symptoms
- Apply hot or cold packs to joints to relieve pain
- Use stretching techniques provided by one of our experts at Ahmeys or a physiotherapist
- Take painkillers to reduce pain, but make sure that you follow the recommended dose and that the medication does not conflict with any other medication you are currently taking
- Exercise regularly to keep joints flexible, but avoid overexerting yourself or putting too much pressure on your joints. Swimming is a good non-weight bearing activity
- Look after your back and try to avoid further damage
- Use a safe technique when lifting
- Do not smoke as nicotine weakens disc tissue