In the spine, bones (vertebrae) protect the spinal cord. Between the vertebrae are soft discs that act like shock absorbers. With aging, these discs weaken and can bulge. A bulge may press on nerves coming from the spinal cord and cause symptoms. A bulging disc is called a slipped disc (or a prolapsed intervertebral disc or herniated disc). These bulging discs can occur anywhere along the spine, from the neck to the lower back.
Slipped discs affect men and women and are most common in people between 30 and 50 years old. Most people get better after treatment.
Most slipped discs result from normal wear and tear, but an injury such as a fall can also cause them.
Most slipped discs don’t cause symptoms. Symptoms depend on where in the spine the disc slips. They may include back pain, bowel and urinary changes, headache, neck pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness.
The health care provider will suspect a slipped disc on the basis of the medical history and physical examination. The health care provider may order x-rays of the spine to be done. In severe cases, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the spine will be done to confirm the diagnosis and find out the severity of the condition.
Treatment depends on how severe the symptoms are. Ninety-five percent of people with a lower back slipped disc get better without surgery and return to a normal life within few weeks.
The health care provider may prescribe medicine to treat the pain and relax the back muscles. The health care provider will also advise to limit days of physical activity. Physical therapy will include special exercises that make the back strong and reduce pain. When a slipped disc doesn’t respond to medicines and physical therapy, shots of pain medicine to the affected area may be tried. Surgery is sometimes needed if symptoms don’t get better after several weeks of treatment.
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