A prolapsed disc, also known as slipped disc, is a condition of the spine in which the inner content of one or more of the spinal discs leaks through the protective shell that surrounds it, into the spinal canal, placing pressure on the spinal nerves that are attached to the spinal cord.
Most commonly, this issue appears in the lower back (lumbar spine), as lumbar discs are under increased pressure to hold the weight of the upper body.
Other terms to refer to a disc prolapse include bulging disc, slipped disc, and herniated disc. Oftentimes, these terms are used interchangeably to refer to one common problem, the spinal disc moving out of its intended place. However, these terms may also refer to separate conditions, pertaining to de degree of severity that affects a spinal disc.
What is a prolapsed disc?
In order to better understand this process and how it affects the spine and leads to painful symptoms, here is a brief description of the spinal anatomy in humans.
The human spine is comprised of the spinal column, which is responsible for housing the spinal cord. The spinal column itself is mainly comprised of vertebrae, facets, facet joints, as well as spinal discs.
Discs sit in-between each vertebra, providing cushioning and shock absorption. These discs are made out of two parts themselves, namely a strong outer layer, and a gel-like inner layer, called the nucleus pulposus.
How do slipped discs occur?
A disc becomes prolapsed when there is too much pressure placed on a specific region of the spine. This can happen due to:
- Weakening of the bones and spinal structure in general, as part of the aging process
- Working in environment that require frequent lifting of heavy objects
- Incorrect approach to lifting heavy objects, which places more pressure on the spine than on other parts of the body
- Genetic predisposition to developing this condition
- Lack of exercise/weak muscles due to inactivity
There may be other risk factors that lead to disc prolapse, apart from the ones mentioned above.
When the inner content of the disc slips out of its protective shell, or outer ring, it can put pressure on the nerve roots attached to the spinal cord, and especially on the sciatic nerve. This in turn can lead to symptoms such as:
- Pain in the lower back, arms or legs
- Pins and needles surrounding the region where the disc became prolapsed
- Numbness or weakness in the back or legs
- Cauda Equina Syndrome, which can lead to issues with bladder and bowel control, in addition to pain, numbness and weakness in the back and legs. This is a serious condition for which you should seek immediate medical advice and care.
However, some people may have a slipped disc and not even know it. In some cases, the person doesn’t feel pain and doesn’t experience any other symptoms either.
Diagnosis and Treatment
In order to diagnose whether your set of symptoms is caused by a slipped disc, a specialist with conduct a physical examination on the affected region of the back and ask relevant questions in relation to your medical history. If the results of this examination are not conclusive, you may be asked to have imaging tests such as an MRI scan, or a CT scan.
When deciding on a treatment option, it is always best to try more conservative treatments at first in order to avoid possible side effects or even complications that are associated with more invasive approaches.
Once the diagnosis is confirmed, one of the following treatment or pain management options will be considered:
- Anti inflammatory medication or steroid injection to temporarily alleviate the pain
- Physical therapy to help mobilise the spine and reduce pressure on the affected region
- Exercise (if you can) to strengthen the core muscles and reduce pressure on the back
- Use a spinal decompression device, such as the Backrack
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Preventing disc problems from recurring
Because disc problems can be quite unpleasant, especially if they flare up regularly, it is recommended to take a few measures to reduce their occurrence. Some of them include:
- Using the Backrack, which is a great device not only for treatment, but also for prevention
- Strengthening your core muscles. In instances where the prolapse of the disc occurred due to the spine having to compensate for the lack of support from the back muscles, such exercises will help take off some of the pressure that has been placed on the discs.
- Avoid smoking, as this can have a negative impact on your bone health overall
- Practice correct lifting techniques when handling heavy weights.
- Maintain a healhy weight.