What is a Slipped Disc? – A Quick Guide

A herniated disc, also known as a slipped disc, is a condition in which one of the cushions or discs that sits between the bones ruptures.

A slipped disc, which can occur anywhere in the spine, is most common in the lower back. It can result in pain, weakness, and numbness based on the location of the disc. 

Doctor Brandon Claflin of Oklahoma says it is important to note that many people experience no symptoms of a slipped disc. For people who get them, the symptoms tend to become more noticeable over time. 

Symptoms of a Slipped Disc

Signs and symptoms vary, depending on where the disc is located and whether it is pressing on a nerve. Symptoms usually affect one side of the body or the other. Here are some known symptoms of a slipped disc: 

Sharp Pain

If your slipped disc is in the lower back, in addition to lower back pain, you will usually feel pain in the buttocks, thigh, and calf. You might also experience pain in an area of your foot. If the pain is in your neck, you will usually feel it most in your shoulder and arm. This sharp pain can shoot up your arm or leg, during instances of coughing or sneezing. 

Numbness or Tingling

People who have a herniated disc often encounter numbness or tingling in the part of the body shared by the affected nerves.

Weakness 

Because the muscle and nervous systems are closely interconnected, muscles served by affected nerves tend to get weak over time. This weakness can cause you to stumble, and can impact your ability to lift or hold heavy objects.

Types of Pain from a Slipped Disc

A slipped disc can cause pain in a local area, such as the neck or back. It can cause discomfort in distant locations, like an arm or leg, as well. 

Nerve pain, chronic pain, and muscle ache or strain are commonly experienced by people with a slipped disc. 

Causes of a Slipped Disc

A herniated or slipped disc is often the result of gradual wear and tear associated with aging. As we age, discs become less flexible and more prone to tearing or rupturing, even with little stress or twisting.

Sometimes using the back muscles, instead of leg and thigh muscles, to lift heavy objects might cause slipped discs as you twist and turn while lifting. However, most people cannot pinpoint the exact cause of their herniated or slipped discs. 

Risk Factors for a Slipped Disc

Several factors contribute to the increased risk of slipped discs. Some of these include the following: 

  • Lifting heavy weights and over exercising can be prominent risk factors. This is because these activities put extra strain on the discs in the lower back. 

  • People with physically demanding jobs are at greater risk of back problems and injuries. 

  • Repetitive lifting, pulling, pushing, and twisting can increase risk. 

  • Genetics can increase the likelihood of having a slipped disc, as some people inherit a predisposition to developing it.

  • Smoking reduces the oxygen supply to the discs, causing them to disintegrate more quickly.

  • Frequent driving, which includes sitting for long periods of time, can also increase your risk of developing a slipped disc. 

How to Manage the Pain

Sometimes slipped disc symptoms can be severe enough to disrupt your life. Most body ailments associated with a herniated disc, however, can be remedied within a few weeks.  

Here are a few recommendations for managing and alleviating your pain: 

Get Rest

Take it easy for a few days. Resting can reduce swelling and gives your back time to heal. While you have back pain, avoid exercise and other activities that require bending or lifting.

Take Medications as Prescribed

For back pain, you can get an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn). These medications can help relieve pain and reduce swelling. Always consult your doctor before using any of these, or other medications. Your doctor may specify muscle relaxants and nerve pain medications to relieve back muscle spasms or pain caused by nerve damage. 

Make sure to take your prescribed dosage of medicine on time, to help your body heal. 

Physical Therapy

Specific exercises can help improve the symptoms of a herniated disc. A trained physical therapist can teach you which exercises strengthen the muscles. Stretching is a great way to relieve sudden body tension and jerks. There are numerous other exercises that you can do on a daily basis to help avoid piercing slipped disc pain. Do your research. Talk to an expert. Plan light exercises that will help alleviate your pain. 

Injection Medication

If rest, pain medication, and physical therapy don’t help to reduce your pain, your doctor may inject steroid medication into the space around your spinal nerve. This procedure is commonly known as an epidural injection. It can help reduce swelling, allow you to move more easily, and relieve the pain caused by a herniated disc.  

Tips to Prevent Slipped Discs

There are several ways to prevent a herniated disc. Some of these include the following:

  • Practice keeping a good posture. This reduces pressure on your spine and discs. Keep your back straight and balanced, especially when sitting for long periods. 

  • Maintain a healthy body weight. This is essential as excess weight puts more pressure on the spine.

Overall, a herniated disc can cause strain on the nerves in your spine; which can lead to pain, weakness, and numbness. These pains can be felt in the neck, back, arms, and legs. 

Generally, a slipped disc can be resolved without serious treatments. Some slipped discs may not even cause pain. However, while usually unnecessary, in serious cases causing severe pain, surgery may be the required remedy. You can become your first defense against the risks of a slipped disc. Be careful in how you move your body, hold your posture, and in the amount of weight that you lift. Pay attention to signals from your body, especially in your back, neck, arms and legs. Get regular physical checkups, and consult a medical professional if you do experience pain.