Slipped disc can also be called herniated disc, lumbar radiculopathy, and prolapsed intervertebral disc and so on. Slipped disc occurs when part of a disc in the spine is weak and all or part of it is forced through this weak portion. This produces extreme pain since it puts pressure on surrounding nerves.
Who are at Risk of Slipped disk
Slipped discs happen in middle-aged or older men. They can get slipped disc after arduous activity, due to obesity or when lifting heavy weights. Congenital disorders of the lumbar spinal canal also result in slipped discs. The spinal column is made up of bones separated by discs. These discs help space out the vertebrae and cushion the spine. They also protect the nerves that emerge from the brain. These discs help in free movement of your vertebrae and aid in reaching, bending or similar motions.
Strain or injury cause these discs to herniate (move out of position) or rupture (break open). This puts pressure on the spinal nerves causing numbness, pain and weakness.
The lumbar area (lower back) is the most common place where slipped discs occur. Other areas that can get affected are the cervical (neck) or thoracic (upper-to-mid-back) discs – although extremely rarely.
Symptoms of Slipped Disc
Know slipped disc symptoms, since early detection and treatment can prevent the need for surgery.
Back pain or neck pain: This is usually centered in the lower back and it slowly spreads to other body parts. The pain feels like a dull ache or a mild tingling. Sometimes it could be a throbbing and burning pain. The pain can be severe and prevent movement. Some patients also have numbness – loss of sensation.
Pain in the lower back causes patients to experience pain on one leg, buttocks or hip while the other parts feel numb. Numbness or pain can be felt on the sole or back part of the calf. The leg where the pain is felt will be weak.
If the slipped disc is located at the neck, the patient feels pain when moving the neck, over the shoulder blade. You can experience radiating pain on the forearm, upper arm and at times the fingers too. Some people feel numb on the shoulder, elbow, fingers and forearm.
The pain worsens after sitting or standing for sometime, when the body shakes – e.g. when you sneeze, cough or laugh, in the night, and when you move the spinal cord when walking or bending backwards.
Some people do not experience any other symptoms as long as the disc that has slipped does not press on the spinal cord or nerves.
Pain in the sciatic nerve: The sciatic nerve starts from the back of the pelvis, runs through the buttocks, down both the legs and to the feet. It is the longest nerve and gets affected by a slipped disc. The pressure placed on the sciatic nerve by slipped disc causes numbness, lasting and aching pain and a tingling feeling in either one or both legs. The pain can extend the entire length of the sciatic nerve – i.e. from the lower back, buttocks and down the legs.
Pain in other nerves: If any of the other nerves located in the spinal cord are affected by a slipped disc, the patient will suffer symptoms like muscle spasms when muscles contractions are extremely painful and tight. They can experience urinary incontinence that is a loss in bladder control and the unintentional passing of urine and muscle paralysis. Muscle paralysis causes weakness of all the muscles. You can lose sensation of the affected muscles too.
What to do?
If a person experiences slipped disc symptoms, especially sudden numbness and weakness in both limbs accompanied by loss of bladder control this could indicate the more serious cauda equine syndrome. This requires immediate medical attention for it is life-threatening.
Treatment of Slipped Disk
Doctors will conduct a physical exam to test muscle strength, walking ability, reflexes and feelings in the limbs. Sometimes a CT scan, MRI, spinal X-ray, myelogram, EMG or nerve conduction velocity test will be done to confirm the presence of a slipped disc while ruling out other symptoms.
Doctors will initially recommend a short time of rest along with pain medication and physiotherapy. Usual medications are painkillers and NSAID’s to reduce the inflammation and pain. For back spasms, muscle relaxants will be given.
Lifestyle changes are crucial for those with slipped disc symptoms. For overweight people, this means a good diet and exercise to reduce weight. Physiotherapy is important, for you will learn the best way to sit, stand, walk, lift, dress etc. For the first few days, excessive physical activities will be banned. Slowly these can start as the strength in the back muscles improve.
Some doctors will inject steroids into the slipped disc to control pain. This reduces swelling and eases most of the slipped disc symptoms. X-ray and fluoroscopy are used to identify the herniated disc and inject the medication right into it.
Those who have symptoms that persist even after the above treatment will require surgery.
Slipped Disk : Prevention and Precaution
With proper care and a few simple preventive measures, those with slipped disc symptoms can lead healthy and active lives. Most people who suffer from slipped discs can recover in 3 months with only simple treatment like ice packs or heating pads and over-the-counter NSAIDs to relieve pain. Sometimes, surgery will be recommended.
Too much bed rest weakens muscles and stiffens the joints. Hence, rest in a comfortable position for 30 minute stretches and then go for short walks. Activities that increase pain during the healing process must be avoided.
Make sure you place less pressure on your back when you lift. Hence, lift with your legs and not back. Do not bed at the waist to lift objects. Bend your knees and squat on the ground to pick up things . Make sure you maintain an erect posture when you sit, walk, or stand. This supports the lower back. Always make sure you follow a good exercise regime. Maintain a healthy weight for your height to reduce load on the back. Smoking increases the risk of disc injury, so quit the habit.
Exercises recommended are usually core-strengthening ones that can support the spine and stabilize it. Do not resume high-impact leisure activities like tennis or jogging without first consulting your doctor.
There are those who are unable to manage the pain and stress. Accept the fact you have a problem and learn to manage it with sensible diet and a proper exercise regime. Some relaxation techniques and deep breathing exercises can ease the pain and de-stress you.