What to do About a Slipped Disc

A slipped disc can cause pain, frustration, and anguish for the person who suffers from it. If left untreated, a slipped disc can cause massive problems over time. Dr. Cosmas Leigh has first hand experience with this. When he met his wife, Dr. Trish Leigh, her mother suffered from chronic neck and back pain. Upon further evaluation, Dr. Leigh discovered that his soon-to-be-mother-in-law had multiple slipped discs. Some in her neck area and others in her low back area. He was the first in his area of the country to use non-surgical-spinal decompression and his mother-in-law was his first patient. Thankfully it was a huge success and his non-surgical spinal decompression program was born.

What is a slipped disc?

If you want to know what a slipped disc is, you are in the right place. Your spinal column is made up of a series of bones that are stacked one on top of the other. You may have heard before that these bones are called vertebrae. Starting at the top of the spine, the column includes seven bones in the cervical region. Your neck is the cervical region. Next, 12 bones make up the thoracic spine in your chest area. Five bones in the lumbar spine of your low back are near the bottom. Lastly, the sacrum and the coccyx at the base to make up your tail bone. In between the bones are cushioned discs that protect the bones as they move. The discs absorb the shocks from daily activities like walking, lifting, and twisting.

Each spinal disc is made up of two parts. On the inside of the disc is a soft, gel-like inner portion. Surrounding the soft inside is a tough outer ring. If you have an injury in your neck or back it can cause the inner portion of the disc to protrude out through the outer ring. This can happen from weakness or degeneration of the disc over time too. Subsequently, a slipped, herniated, or prolapsed disc results. Unfortunately, pain and discomfort usually happen too. If the slipped disc compresses one of your spinal nerves, you may also experience numbness and pain along the affected nerve. Symptoms can be painful and very disruptive to your quality of life.

How are disc injuries diagnosed?

Slipped discs are identified using imaging tests that allow a spine doctor, such as a highly trained Chiropractor, to view the bones and muscles of your spine. Using advanced technology, any damaged areas can be seen, and the damage can be assessed. The most common imaging tests include X-rays and MRI scans.

It is also important that a spinal doctor performs a physical exam. In most cases, the doctor will be looking for the source of your pain and discomfort. Nerve function and muscle strength will be evaluated. He or she will also determine whether you feel pain when moving or touching the affected area. Your medical history and your symptoms can be important information for the doctor to understand why you are experiencing the pain you are.

How are slipped discs treated?

Treatments for a slipped disc range from conservative to surgical. Usually the treatment depends on the level of discomfort you’re experiencing and how far the disc has slipped out of place. Slipped disc treatments include:

  • Therapeutic Stretches and Exercises to strengthen the area of the spine
  • Spinal Manipulation to ease the disc into place
  • Over-the-Counter Medication to ease the pain
  • Prescription Medication to ease the pain
  • Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression to slip the disc back into place
  • Spinal Surgery to remove a portion of the affected disc

Slipped discs respond to non-surgical spinal decompression within weeks to help the discs to gently move back into place so symptoms reduce.

Most people can relieve slipped disc pain using a therapy program that stretches and strengthens the back and surrounding muscles. At Leigh Brain & Spine, Dr. Cosmas Leigh may recommend exercises that can strengthen your back while reducing your pain.

Taking over-the-counter pain relievers and avoiding heavy lifting and painful positions can also help while your discs are healing.

Some people think it is best to refrain from all physical activity while you’re experiencing the pain or discomfort of a slipped disc. It is advised that you continue to walk and stretch so you do not experience muscle weakness and joint stiffness. If you become weak and stiff, it can be harder for the discs to return to where they belong. Instead, try to remain as active as possible through low-impact activities that do not put strain on the discs.

What are the symptoms?

You can have a slipped disc in any part of your spine, from your neck to your lower back. The neck and lower back are the most common areas for slipped discs. Your spinal column is an intricate network of nerves and blood vessels. A slipped disc can place extra pressure on the nerves and muscles around it. This pressure can cause a wide variety of debilitating symptoms.

Symptoms of a slipped disc include:

  • pain and numbness, most commonly on one side of the body
  • extended pain to your arms or legs
  • worsened pain at night or with certain movements
  • pain that worsens after standing or sitting
  • pain when walking short distances
  • unexplained muscle weakness
  • tingling, aching, or burning sensations in the affected area

The types of pain can vary from person to person. If your pain results in numbness or tingling that affects your ability to control your muscles, you know that your injury is worsening.

What causes a slipped disc?

When the outer ring of the disc becomes weakened or torn it allows the inner gel-like portion to “slip out”. That is how herniated discs got their name. This can happen with age. Certain movements may also cause a slipped disc. A disc can slip out of place while you are turning to lift an object. If you twist your body, a disc could slip out if it is weakened. Lifting a very large, heavy object can place great strain on the lower back, resulting in a slipped disc.

What are the risk factors?

Age is the most common reason people experience slipped discs. As you get older, you are more likely to experience a slipped disc due to natural degeneration of the spine. This is because your discs begin to lose some of their protective water content as you age. As a result, they can slip more easily out of place. They are more common in men than women.

If you are overweight, you are also at increased risk for a slipped disc.  This is because the discs must support the additional weight with frequency. Weak muscles and a sedentary lifestyle may also contribute to the development of a slipped disc.

Very physically demanding job that requires a lot of lifting may put you at increased risk for slipped discs.

The doctor can combine all these pieces of information to determine what is causing your pain, weakness, or discomfort and how to help you.

What are the complications of a slipped disc?

If left untreated, a severe slipped disc can lead to permanent nerve damage. In very rare cases, a slipped disc can cut off nerve impulses to special nerves in your lower back and legs that control bowel and bladder function. If this occurs, you may lose bowel or bladder control.

Saddle anesthesia is another known long-term complication from an untreated slipped disc. This occurs over time when the slipped disc compresses the nerves. It causes you to lose sensation in your inner thighs, the back of your legs, and around your rectum.

While the symptoms of a slipped disc can improve on their own, they tend to worsen over time with continued use of the disc. If you cannot perform the activities you once could, it’s time to see a doctor.

What is the outlook for someone with a slipped disc?

Most people with a slipped disc respond well to a conservative treatment program. Typically, within six weeks their pain and discomfort will lessen and possibly alleviated

Is it possible to prevent a slipped disc?

Not always can a slipped disc be avoided. However, the best ways to try to prevent a slipped disc is to use preventive techniques that keep your spine healthy. These steps include:

  • Use safe lifting techniques: Bend and lift from your knees, not your waist.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Do not remain seated for long periods; get up and stretch periodically.
  • Do exercises to strengthen the muscles in your back, legs, and abdomen.
  • Maintain good posture.

What to do about a slipped disc?

Get expert treatment from top doctors at a state-of-the clinic near you. Dr. Cosmas Leigh has been helping people with slipped discs get out of pain and heal their spines for over 22 years. He knows how a slipped disc can disrupt your life from personal experience and he cares. He wants to help you get back to doing the things you love with no pain. Enter your contact information below if you’d like to receive more information on Dr. Cosmas Leigh’s non-surgical spinal decompression program. Or feel free to give us a call! (919) 401-9933