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What Is a Slipped Disc?

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.

What Causes a Slipped Disc?

Most slipped discs result from normal wear and tear, but an injury such as a fall can also cause them.

What Are the Symptoms of a Slipped Disc?

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.

How Is a Slipped Disc Diagnosed?

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.

How Is a Slipped Disc Treated?

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.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing a Slipped Disc:

  • DO ask your health care provider when you can return to work and normal activity.
  • DO call your health care provider if your symptoms get worse.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have trouble urinating or having a bowel movement or you cannot hold your urine or stool.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have numbness in your legs, have rectal pain, or have sudden weakness in any part of your body, especially your legs.
  • DON’T stop taking your medicine or change your dosage because you feel better unless your health care provider says to do so.
  • DON’T return to work, play sports, or bend forward to pick up your children without your health care provider’s permission.
  • DON’T bend or twist when you lift something. Ask your health care provider about the best way to lift things without hurting your spine.

Contact the following sources:

  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
    Tel: (847) 823-7186, (800) 346-2267

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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