As you age, a few aches and pains are expected. There are some though, which come on sooner than others. Commonly affecting people over the age of 30, slip disc is one such pain. We at Ranka Hospital, Pune take a look at what a slipped disc is and how you can treat it.
What is a Slipped Disc? To begin with, the name is a little misleading. But to understand it better we first have to understand the anatomy of the spine. Our spinal cord is made up of a number of stacked up bones. These bones are called the vertebrae. In between each vertebra are shock-absorbing discs. Each disc has a hard outer covering and a softer inner portion. When we refer to slip disc, it is this cushioning of the spine that is being referred to. So, where’s the problem?
The reason the name is misleading is because these spinal discs are actually firmly attached to the spinal cord, and usually do not slip out of place. What slips out is actually the gel (softer inner portion) contained within these discs.
The spinal cord is an extremely narrow part of the anatomy. When this gel slips out it irritates the nearby nerves. This condition is known as a slipped disc. It may also be referred to as a herniated disc, bulging disc or prolapsed disc and often these terms are used interchangeably.
What Causes a Slipped Disc? As we have already established, wear and tear associated with ageing can cause a slipped disc. When young, the discs are spongy and have a lot of fluid content. As you grow older they tend to dry up and harden, making them more susceptible to injury. This process is called disc degeneration. It is not a progressive condition and having it does not necessarily mean that one will face chronic back problems.
Another reason a slipped disc may occur is due to extreme physical exertion. Sometimes just twisting your back in a particular way or lifting a heavy object incorrectly may cause a slipped disc. Being overweight also puts you at risk of developing a slipped disc. In this case the spinal discs support the additional weight which in turn adds pressure onto them. Similarly, jobs that require people to be seated for most of the day such as driving or a desk job could stress the spinal discs.
Diagnosis of a Slip Disc: The source of pain is the most important aspect of a slip disc diagnosis. Your doctor will take into account your medical history and conduct a physical examination to pinpoint the source of pain. Diagnostic tests such as MRIs and CT Scans are mainly conducted to confirm the doctors’ analysis and to get detailed imagery of the slipped disc.
Symptoms of Slipped Disc: The source of pain also determines the kinds of symptoms one experiences. When the slip disc has occurred in the lumbar spine (lower back) pain could be felt in leg, buttocks, knees and even feet. In extreme cases one may even have difficulty controlling bowel movement. This is because the sciatic nerve runs through this part of the anatomy. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body and an irritation at one end of the nerve could cause a reaction at another seemingly unrelated end of the body.
A slip disc in the cervical spine (neck) is far less common as the discs in the neck are not as weight-bearing as those in the lower back. However rare, a slipped disc in the neck can still cause a lot of pain. The pain from this could be felt in the shoulders, arm and hands in the form of numbness, tingling and weakness. The intensity of pain will change according to the motion of the neck.
When a slipped disc occurs in the thoracic spine, it rarely causes any symptoms or pain. If it does, the pain is usually felt in the upper back and chest area itself.
How is Slipped Disc treated? The primary aim of slip disc treatment is pain relief. Most often the initial treatment involves non-surgical methods for the first few weeks. These could involve medication, epidural injections physical therapy etc. Application of hot & cold packs may be recommended along with neck and back strengthening exercises. Most often patients are advised to limit their physical activity but not stop it completely, as complete bed rest can aggravate the situation.
Your doctors will try a combination of these therapies for a while until they find the one that your body responds to the best. Only in very extreme cases or special cases, is surgery suggested.
Slip Disc is a highly treatable condition and one mustn’t waste time in seeking out medical help. The sooner it is treated, the less damage it can do to your system. We at Ranka Hospital, Pune treat this condition quickly and effectively. If you suspect you may be suffering a slip disc, call us now.