It is a common phrase thrown around when back pain occurs. You will often hear the words ‘Slipped Disc’ but what does that mean and is that what actually happens? It is probably best if I start with some basic anatomy in order to help you understand this problem.
Our spines are comprised of separate bones called vertebrae. This vertebrae sit on top of each other one by one to form the spinal column. They are attached by various joints which help the spine bend and move and keep us upright. The spine is subjected to many difference forces such as compressive, rotational, flexion and extension. Therefore in between each vertebra we have a soft cushion called a disc which helps absorb some of these forces. The discs are made up out of a firm fibrous outer layer called the annulus and a soft squidgy inside area called the nucleus. You can liken this to the composition of a donut with the outer layer keeping the jelly in the middle.
Throughout life as we move and bend (sometimes without looking after the position of our backs) this outer layer can become worn and eventually the nucleus, or inside of the donut, can be pushed through the weakened annulus. This is known as a disc bulge or herniation. The movement of the nucleus can put pressure on surrounding tissues such as joints and nerves and become inflamed which can in itself be very painful as well as causing the nerves to become sensitive. This can give the characteristic leg pain or sciatica, if it occurs in the lower back, as well as cause weakness and numbness if there is sufficient nerve compromise.
So to come back to the question of ‘have I slipped a disc’? In reality the disc has not slipped anywhere. The outer layer has simply become weak and given way to the soft inside being pushed through it. Often it will be the case that someone is simply bending to pick something up or doing the vacuuming that causes this intense pain but really it is a build up over time and repeated poor movement control that leads to this problem as all tissues have an eventual failure point. This problem is more common in the lower back but can occur in the neck as well and rarely in the mid-back (thoracic spine).
So what do you do if this happen? Usually it helps to stop what you are doing and ice the area to reduce inflammation. Although it is painful it is best to remain as active as possible whilst avoiding movements that make the problem worse. See your Chiropractor for treatment and assessment as soon as you can to help reduce the pain and allow the disc to heal. Your Chiropractor will also help you to change the way that you move and strengthen your core which will hopefully prevent future disc injury. These disc injuries can take a while to heal so it is important to be patient and seek further help should any strange symptoms occur such as problems with the bowel and bladder or worsening weakness. In these cases it may be appropriate to seek MRI imaging of the problem through the relevant practitioner.
If you think you may have an issue with a “Slipped Disc” and wish to speak to one of our chiropractors please do not hesitate to contact us for a New Patient Appointment.