Slipped A Disc? What Does This Mean?

15 Oct 2012

I’m sure that you have met someone who has ‘slipped a disc’ in their time and most probably they were in a terrible amount of pain. So what is a disc? Is it possible to slip it? Why does this slipping of the disc cause so much pain and discomfort?

The spine aids weight transfer from our head, arms, and torso to our legs and eventually to the ground. Most of this weight that gets transferred through the spine ends up going through the discs. The discs are an integral part of the spine and act as shock absorbers. They can do this because of their structure. The discs are in a simple term fluid filled sacs surrounded by a tough outer layer. The fluid filled centre is important for the weight transfer or the shock absorbing properties. The tough outer layer is to protect the inner fluid and also to keep the disc in a regular shape. As well as acting as shock absorbers in the spine, the discs act as spacers. These spacers allow enough space for the nerves to come from the spinal cord and supply every region of the body.

So what is slipping a disc? The disc itself does not slip from its position. The disc is attached to the vertebra each side so in order to be displaced it would need to be ripped from the spine (not easy to do and certainly not very comfortable). What is commonly known as slipping a disc is when the fluid in the centre of the disc manages to escape through the tough outer layer (usually due to a tear in the outer layer) and irritate the nerves.

The pressure on this nerve can cause intense pain, numbness, pins and needles, weakness, and even changes to the organ function. This all depends on how severe the pressure on the nerve is and which nerve is involved. Each of the nerves of the spine supplies a specific area in the body so it is possible to find which specific disc is the cause of the problem. For example, if a patient was experiencing pain down the leg and causing pain into the outside of the foot with numbness present then it is likely to be L5/S1 that is the issue.

Not all problems that cause pain down the leg or any numbness or tingling have to be a disc problem. There are many things to consider when thinking whether or not your problem is a ‘slipped disc’. The main criteria to fit into a disc problem are listed below:

  • Aged between 20-50
  • Antalgic posture (leaning over towards one side)
  • More painful bending forwards than bending backwards
  • Lots of pain when bearing down, sneezing, and coughing
  • Pain down the arm or leg with or without numbness, tingling, and pins and needles present

So, in conclusion technically you cannot slip a disc. The correct name is a disc protrusion or bulge and it is caused by the fluid in the disc pressing on a nerve. If you think you have this problem then it is important to have a consultation with a chiropractor to try and determine the best treatment options for you.

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