A slipped disc in your spine can cause a whole host of problems, and it’s an issue that occurs more frequently in older and more active adults. A slipped disc, also referred to as a herniated disc, occurs when the soft inner portion of the disc pushes through the outer layer of the disc. Today, we take a look at why these injuries occur, what symptoms are like, and how the condition is treated.
Causes and Symptoms of Slipped Discs
The vertebrae in your spine are separated by spinal discs, which act as cushions and shock absorbers for the spine. These discs have a soft gelatinous inner portion and a tougher outer ring, but damage to the disc can cause the inner portion to protrude out of the outer ring. If you imagine these discs as jelly donuts, you can get a better idea of how excessive pressure can cause the inner portion to push through the tougher outer ring. When this happens in the spine, the slipped disc can put pressure on spinal nerves, which can cause a number of problems.
A slipped disc can occur for a variety of reasons. Older adults are at a greater risk because their vertebral discs have undergone decades of stress, but slipped discs aren’t isolated to older individuals. Discs can slip when lifting of moving heavy objects, during your physical job or when participating in athletic events. It should also be noted that overweight individuals are at a greater risk for slipped discs because excessive weight puts added strain on these spinal discs.
Symptoms of a slipped disc include:
- Pain and numbness on one side of the body.
- Shooting pain in your arms or legs.
- Pain that worsens with bending or certain movements.
- Muscle weakness.
- Tingling or burning sensation in the affected area.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Slipped Discs
Diagnosis of a slipped disc is a rather straightforward process in the hands of a skilled spine specialist. Your doctor will begin by performing a physical exam. This will include putting gentle pressure on some areas of the spine to see where the pain is housed and how nerve function is affected. The physical exam will be coupled with a review of your medical history and a discussion with your doctor about your symptoms and what makes pain worse.
Once the physical exam is complete, the diagnosis will be confirmed with an imaging test, like an X-ray, MRI or CT scan.
Left untreated, not only will a slipped disc cause you pain, but it could lead to permanent nerve damage and bowel problems, so successful treatment is important. Some slipped discs can be treated with nonoperative methods, while others will need surgery to fully resolve. For mild to moderately slipped discs, a physical therapy regimen coupled with pain relievers and low-intensity exercises can help the disc heal and pain resolve. For more painful slipped discs, your doctor may prescribe muscle relaxers or nerve medications to relieve more intense pain.
If conservative treatment fails, or you have a severely slipped disc, surgery may be your best bet. There are a couple of different surgical options depending on the location of the slipped disc and the extent of the damage. Your surgeon may perform a microdiscectomy, which will remove a portion of the protruding disc, leaving the majority of the disc in tact, or they could perform a laminectomy and spinal fusion, which involves removing the damaged disc and replacing it with an artificial one.
For more information about each procedure, or about slipped discs in general, contact our office today.