Slipped Disc

What is a Slipped Disk?

The spine is made up of a chain of bones called the vertebrae.  The front part of the vertebrae is called the vertebral body.  Between the bones of the vertebrae there are soft spinal disks which help to keep our spine flexible and absorb shock to the spine whenever we walk, jump or run. A slipped disk also called spinal disk herniation is a condition affecting the spine in which a tear in the outer, fibrous ring of the intervertebral disks causes the soft central portion to bulge out, causing nerve root compression.   Many people don’t realize they have a slipped disk, because often the pain is located in the neck, not the actual back.  When the pain extends to other parts of the body, then it is noticed and often by then the damage can be severe.

What Causes a Slipped Disk?

There are various reasons why you may have a slipped disk.  Normal wear and tear on your spinal disk due to aging may cause a spinal disk to slip or bulge.  Overexerting the back, bending over wrong, lifting a heavy object or twisting of the back can cause a slipped disk.  A slipped disk can happen just from doing everyday chores and living, such as driving for long distances, changing sleeping positions, or sitting in the wrong posture for a period of time.

Types of Slipped Disks

There are three types of slipped disks:

  • Prolapsed– The disk is bulging out between the bones of the vertebrae, but its outer layer remains intact.
  • Extrusion– With this type of slipped disk there is a tear in the outer layer of the spinal disk, causing the tissue to leak out, yet it is still connected to the disk.
  • Sequestration– The spinal tissue has entered the spinal cord and is no longer attached to the vertebrae.

Knowing what type of slipped disk someone has is important for the choice of treatment and understanding how the condition might develop.  What are the common symptoms of a slipped disk?

Common Symptoms

Symptoms of a slipped disk can vary depending upon the location of the injury and the soft tissue involved.  You can experience no pain at all up to severe unrelenting neck or low back pain which travels to other parts of your body.  The pain of slipped disks is due to the irritation of the nerve endings and the pressure and swelling of the herniated disk. The radiating pain from the slipped disk is also known as sciatica.  Sciatica is caused by the spinal disk tissue irritating a nerve root in the lumbar region.  The nerves run through the spinal cord connect to the sciatic nerve in the pelvis and runs down the leg.  Often the symptoms are described as pins and needles and numbness in the extremities,   for some it can be painful.

What are the Treatment Options?

Most often the symptoms of a slipped disk will go away gradually without any treatment.  Most often the treatment offered is to ease the pain and help you to cope with the symptoms.  Usually the symptoms of sciatica go away within six weeks.  Non-surgical treatments are tried first, after the condition is diagnosed.

The Main Methods Used Are:

  • Exercise, relaxation, and positioning (raised legs)
  • Medication
  • Manual and physical therapy
  • Traditional Asian medicine
  • Injection therapy along the spinal area

Surgery

Spinal disk surgery is done if it is an emergency, such as impairing the function of the bladder or bowel.  Yet the most common reason for the surgery is due to severe pain which can’t be relieved by other treatment methods.   For surgery to be considered imaging techniques must prove that the slipped disk is the main cause of the intense pain.

There Are Three Surgical Techniques Available:

  • Open Discectomy– Open discectomy is one of the most common procedures done to repair a slipped disk.  The damaged part of the slipped disk is removed and the surgeon is able to see the area being operated on using a microscope.  This microsurgical procedure needs general anesthesia and the patient needs to stay in the hospital for a few days, due to the bleeding, nerve damage, and infection risks.  The general anesthesia may lead to complications like breathing or circulation problems.
  • Endoscopic surgery– This surgery is also referred to as keyhole surgery because it used very small instruments and the surgery only requires one tiny incision.  this surgery is done to speed up recovery and prevent scarring of the tissue.  An endoscopic device is inserted through a small incision in the skin and pushed through to the spinal disk.  X-rays are used to help guide the instruments to the right spot.  There are risks to this type of surgery such as bleeding, nerve damage and inflammation.
  • Surgery on the Center of the Spinal disk– This procedure involves inserting an instrument into the spinal disk to reach the center.  Then the center of the disk is removed using suction or it is vaporized by using laser beams.  This makes the spinal disk smaller in size reducing the pressure on the spinal nerve.  this surgical method has the risk of tissue damage due to the heat of the laser beam.

After you have undergone one of the above surgical methods you will be required to have a period of rehabilitation.  Many people who have had one of these surgeries have had relief immediately, yet can reduce their mobility for a few more weeks.  There is no clear cut answer to the success of these surgeries for everyone.  For some it will be a relief from further pain for others the surgery can make the pain worse.  With rehabilitation you can regain this mobility, shorten your recovery time, help you gain flexibility and get you back into your life.

Barbara Lucore

I have been a nurse for 15+ years and as a nurse I understand how to prevent back strain and pain. The correct ways to lift objects, the causes of back pain, treatments available, the exercises to reduce or prevent back pain and the proper ways to move without strain or injury to your back.