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What is a Slipped Disc?


Our spines are made up of bones called vertebrae that are separated by intervertebral discs. These discs have a tough outer shell and are filled with a gel-like substance. Their purpose is to provide spacing between the vertebrae and cushion the impact of our spine’s movement. The term “slipped disc” is a bit misleading in that there is no physical slippage of the disc. A slipped disc is the result of a tear or opening in the disc’s outer shell that allows some material in its center to slip out into the spinal canal.

Slipped disc symptoms can be quite painful and interfere with your daily activities. The symptoms are the result of the disc’s contents pressing against a spinal nerve. Depending on where along the spine your slipped disc is located, the pain may radiate to your legs or arms and can be accompanied by numbness and weakness. For some, symptoms of slipped disc can be treated using conservative treatment at home, but for others, surgery is the only way to stop the pain and restore mobility.

At Back Pain Centers of America, we understand how frustrating it can be to live with constant neck or back pain. We have helped more than 30,000 patients find relief after other treatments failed. Call us at [sc name=”patient_phone_number_dash”] so we can match you with a board-certified spine specialist that can give you the treatment you need.

Is a slipped disc causing you pain?

What Causes a Slipped Disc?

Slipped discs most often result from the gradual wear and tear that affects our discs as we age. This is commonly referred to as disc degeneration. As we get older, our discs lose water and become more brittle, making them more prone to tearing or rupturing. A slipped disc can happen from even a simple movement, such as bending or twisting.

There are certain factors that can increase your risk of suffering a slipped disc. Along with aging, other risk factors include:

  • Carrying too much bodyweight – Excess body weight puts extra stress on your spine, causing more wear on the discs.
  • Certain activities and occupations – Jobs and activities that involve repetitive movement involving the spine, such as lifting, twisting, pushing, pulling, or bending, can cause your discs to wear down faster and increase the likelihood of a slipped disc.
  • Family history – If someone in your family has had a slipped disc, you are more likely to develop a slipped disc yourself.
  • Smoking – Tobacco speeds up the degeneration of the spine and increases your risk of several spine conditions, including a slipped disc.
  • Sedentary lifestyle – People who are inactive and spend long periods of time sitting are more prone to slipped discs and other spine issues. This is due to weak back and abdominal muscles not being able to provide proper support to the spine and poor posture while sitting for extended periods.

Slipped Disc Symptoms

A slipped disc doesn’t generally cause symptoms unless it is pressing against the spinal cord or a spinal nerve. Slipped disc symptoms can be mild or severe and the symptoms of a slipped disc depend on where along the spine the damaged disc is located. The lumbar spine is the part of the spine most commonly affected by different spinal conditions, including slipped discs, because it supports most our weight. This is followed by a slipped disc in the cervical spine, which supports the weight and movement of our head.

A slipped disc in the cervical spine can cause neck and shoulder pain, as well as numbness and weakness that extend to the arms and hands. If your slipped disc is in the lumbar spine, you may have low back pain that extends through the buttock and down the leg (sciatica), with possible numbness and weakness affecting the legs and feet.

Back pain from slipped or bulging disc

Slipped disc symptoms include:

  • Localized and radiating pain
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Weakness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Limited range of motion

Slipped Disc Treatment

Treatment for a slipped disc begins conservatively. A combination of nonsurgical treatment options is usually enough to relieve the symptoms of slipped disc in most. These treatments include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication – Analgesics and anti-inflammatory pain medications are effective in relieving mild to moderate pain.
  • Prescription medication – If OTC pain medication doesn’t relieve your pain, your doctor may prescribe a stronger pain medication. These are generally used for short periods to relieve moderate to severe pain.
  • Muscle relaxants – A muscle relaxant medication may be given to treat painful muscle spasms.
  • Ice and heat – Applying heat and cold to the affected area of your neck or back can help to relieve pain and inflammation.
  • Physical therapy – Gentle stretching may alleviate stiffness and take pressure off your spine. Strengthening exercises targeting the muscles in your back and abdomen can help provide better support for your spine. A physical therapist can also teach you proper lifting and posture.
  • Steroid injections – Steroid medication can be injected directly into the affected area of the spine for relief of inflammation and pain lasting a few weeks.

As part of your slipped disc treatment, your doctor may also suggest lifestyle changes to help with your symptoms and to try to prevent another slipped disc from happening in the future. This can include losing weight, becoming more active, and quitting smoking.

If conservative treatment doesn’t relieve your slipped disc symptoms, weakness is interfering with your ability to function, or you have multiple slipped discs, your doctor may recommend surgery. There are different types of surgical procedures used in the treatment of a slipped disc, many of which can be performed on an outpatient basis using minimally invasive techniques. These treatments provide patients an alternative to traditional open spine surgery, allowing for a much faster and more comfortable recovery.

Don’t delay relief. If you’re tired of living with back pain, Back Pain Centers of America has the answer. Call us at [sc name=”patient_phone_number_dash”] to learn more about how our minimally invasive slipped disc treatment options can help you get back to the activities you love.


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