Spinal Injuries – Slipped Discs
A herniated or prolapsed disc, commonly known as a slipped disc, occurs when one of the discs that sit between the spinal column is damaged and can press on the nerves. This can cause pain in the back and neck as well as numbness, tingling sensation, or weakness. Slipped discs are common in people aged between 30 and 50 years old. The condition tends to affect men more than women.
The spinal column is made up of bones called vertebrae which are stacked on top of each other. The discs sit between each vertebrae, helping maintain flexibility of the spine. Discs are connective tissue and have a fibrous case that contain a gel substance. The spinal cord runs down the length of the spine, containing nerve cells and nerve fibres that connect the body to the brain. If a slipped disc occurs, the spinal cord or nerve roots can be at risk of compression or damage.
If you have a slipped disc you may experience pain on one side of the body, this can get worse if the nerve is compressed by the disc. Coughing, sneezing, sitting or standing can aggravate your symptoms.
· Slipped disc in the neck or back can limit movement and cause pain with movement. If the neck is affected you can experience pins and needles, numbness or weakness in the neck, shoulder, arm or hand. If the lower back is affected you may sense pins and needles, numbness or weakness in the back, buttocks, genitals, legs or feet.
· The sciatic nerve may also be compressed due to slipped disc in the low back. The sciatic nerve runs from the back of the pelvis, down into the buttocks and into the legs and feet. If this nerve is compressed, it can cause pain in the leg, hip or buttocks.
· Slipped discs can also compress the nerves at the bottom of the spinal cord. This is a serious condition called Cauda-equina syndrome. Symptoms include: lower back pain, numbness in the groin, paralysis of one or both legs, loss of bladder and bowel control and pain in the insides of your thighs. You should immediately see your GP or visit A&E if these symptoms arise. These nerves can become permanently damaged if not treated promptly.
A prolapsed or herniated disc can occur when the outer case of the disc splits, resulting in the gel substance to bulge out of the disc. The disc can put pressure on the whole spinal cord or on a single nerve, which in turn, can cause pain in the area of the slipped disc and in the area of the body controlled by the nerve that the disc is compressing.
- Age is a common factor which can increase the risk of a slipped disc. As you get older the discs lose water content, making them less flexible.
- If you have a physically demanding job that requires a lot of lifting, you may be at increased risk for slipped disks. Twisting or turning while lifting a heavy item can put a lot of strain on the back causing a slipped disk.
Diagnosis and Treatment
At Physiofusion we can help to diagnose your slipped disc by carrying out a physical examination. In our assessment we look at:
- muscle strength
- walking ability
- sensation in your limbs
Physiotherapy plays a major role in herniated disc recovery. We can help to reduce pain and teach you how to condition your body to prevent further injury. Treatments include:
- Soft Tissue Massage can help to relieve muscle tension and spasm in the affected area.
- Hot and Cold Therapy: Heat can help to increase blood flow to the affected area, helping to bring oxygen and nutrients and remove waste products from muscle tensions. Cold can slow circulation reducing inflammation, muscle spasms and pain.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): TENS machine uses an electrical current to stimulate your muscles, helping to reduce muscle spasms.
- Traction is carried out by gently pulling apart the bones of the spine and intends to reduce the disc herniation.
- Core stability: Core (abdominal) muscles can help your back muscles support your spine. If your core muscles are weak, it can place more pressure on your back muscles.
- Stretching exercises to help maintain spine flexibility and strengthening exercises to support your spine.
- Education on correct posture and advice on how to self manage your condition.
If you have a slipped disc, it is important to keep active. Moving may be difficult at first, however, after resting for a couple of days you should start to move around. This will help keep your spine mobile and stop the muscles that support the spine becoming weak.
If you exercise, it should be gentle. Try not to put too much strain on your back. High impact exercises, such as running, jumping or twisting should be avoided at first. This can cause a flare-up of the pain.
A few precautions to consider helping lower your risk of getting a slipped disc:
- take regular exercise
- use a safe technique when lifting heavy objects
- Always maintain a good posture when sitting and standing.
If you are suffering from back pain or have any queries regarding your back, please do not hesitate to contact us on – 01282 453 110. Alternatively, you can use our FREE ‘Ask a Physio’ service on our website.
Ammit qualified as a chartered physiotherapist from Manchester Met University in 2011. His specialism is in spinal injuries and has amassed lots of experience in treating these since becoming a physio. Ammit enjoys football, music and spending time with family and friends.