We all have suffered a back pain at some point, and usually we tend to just ignore it or rest for a while to help ease the pain. But do you know that sudden and severe back pain could be the sign of quite a few more serious health conditions? Slipped disc is one such ailment. If not treated on time, this neurological disorder can lead to severe consequences like paralysis.
What is Slipped Disc?
Our spinal discs are cushion-like organs located in between our spinal bones (vertebrae). Made up of a soft inner portion and a tough outer ring, these discs protect the vertebral bones by absorbing the shocks caused by daily activities like walking, running, lifting weights, so on and so forth. If these discs become weak or injured, the soft inner portion protrudes through the hard outer ring. Medically, this condition is known as a slipped, herniated, or prolapsed disc. Apart from causing pain and discomfort, it may lead to the compression of spinal nerves. This, in turn, can result in numbness and pain of the affected nerve. Surgical intervention or repair of the slipped disc may be required in severe cases.
Slipped Disc Symptoms
Starting from your neck to the lower back, a slipped disc can affect any part of your spine. However, your lower back is more vulnerable to this condition. The symptoms vary depending on the location of slipped disc and the severity of the condition.
- Severe and sudden back pain
- Numbness in your feet
- Pain in your arms and legs
- Pain and weakness while walking or standing
- Urinary incontinence
- Weakness in the muscles
- Pain that intensifies at night or while performing certain activities
- A tingling, aching, or burning sensation in the affected nerve
If you experience severe manifestations of slipped disc and find yourself unable to perform your daily chores, consult your physician immediately.
What Causes Slipped Disc
Several factors can lead to slipped disc, the most common being age and obesity. People with excessive body weight have a higher risk of this condition as their disc has to bear the weight of those extra kilos. Also, with age, your spinal discs are more likely to get displaced as much of their protective content starts eroding. Your gender influences your chance of getting this condition too. Evidences suggest that it affects more women than men. Apart from these, the other reasons behind slipped disc could be weak muscles, lack of movement, lifting heavy weight and a strained back. Long hours of sitting can be a major culprit behind slipped disc.
Slipped Disc Complications
Like any other health condition, slipped disc can be accompanied by various complications if left untreated. Here, we guide you on a few of them.
Permanent nerve damage: Though rare, slipped disc can cut off signals to certain nerves of your lower back and legs. Under such circumstances, you may lose control over your bowel and bladder movement.
Saddle anaesthesia: In this condition, compression of nerves caused by slipped disc may rob you of your sensation in inner thighs back of the leg and the area around your rectum.
Diagnosis of Slipped Disc
Your neurologist will start with a physical examination to figure out the cause behind your symptoms. For this, he will look for the source of your pain and test your nerve and muscle strength. Your doctor may also ask you if moving or touching the affected area causes pain, and whether or not any activity increases it. Additionally, he is likely to enquire about your first symptom. If he suspects slipped disc after reviewing your condition and medical history, your doctor may suggest the following imaging tests:
Treatment for Slipped Disc
There are many treatment options for this condition. Your physician will choose the appropriate one for you, based on the degree of disc displacement and the level of pain and discomfort you are experiencing.
If the condition isn’t severe, you will be cured with over-the-counter pain relievers, exercises and minor lifestyle measures. A physiotherapist may suggest stretches, back-strengthening workouts and low-impact activities like walking. Your doctor, on the other hand, may advise you to avoid lifting heavy objects and leaning forward. You also need to ensure correct posture while sitting. Avoid slouching if you are suffering from slipped disc. Leading a sedentary life can worsen your condition because lack of movement may result in muscle weakness and joint stiffness. Make sure that you keep moving through the day. Engage yourself in low-impact activities.
If all these don’t work, your may prescribe muscle relaxants, narcotics and drugs to relieve pain in the nerves.
You may need surgical intervention if the symptoms don’t disappear within six weeks and your muscular functions are affected. Through surgery, the affected part of the disc will be removed. It is known as microdiskectomy. In even more sever cases your damaged disc may need to be replaced with an artificial one. Your surgeon may also remove the disc and fuse your vertebral bones. This procedure, along with other methods like laminectomy and spinal fusion, will lend stability to your spine.
Prevention of Slipped Disc
Small but significant lifestyle measures can reduce your risk of slipped disc. Here, we guide you on them:
- Learn safe lifting techniques: While picking up an object, bend at your knees, not your waist.
- Work out to strengthen your back, leg and abdominal muscles.
- Avoid long sitting hours. Take small breaks for stretching
- Sit with a straight posture. Avoid slouching while working at your desk or watching TV. Also, ensure a back support while sitting.