A slipped disk, also known as the herniated disk is a common medical problem with one of the disks – rubbery cushion that lies between the individual bones which stack to make the spine. In humans, the spinal cord is made of a series of bones known as vertebrae, which are stacked onto each other; these bones are cushioned by several disks, which help to the bones to absorb the shocks from strenuous or normal activities such as walking, lifting, climbing, running, or twisting.
Each of the disks has two components – an inner part which is soft and gelatinous and a tough outer portion. When an injury, stress or weakness impacts the inner part of the disk called the nucleus, it protrudes through the outer ring (annulus) causing severe pain, numbness or weakness in limbs. A herniated or slipped disk can be very painful and also debilitating. A slipped disk can affect any part of the spine and can cause irritation or problem to the surrounding nerve. Depending on the location of the slipped disk, it can affect the concerned arm or leg. Some people might not experience any symptoms if the slipped disk does not press on the nearby nerves.
For some patients, simple lifestyle modifications, posture changes and exercises can help relieve the pain and discomfort, while for severe cases, surgery may be required to remove or repair the slipped disk.
Causes of Slipped Disk
A slipped or herniated disk occurs when the soft internal portion of the disk known as nucleus protrudes through the outer ring called the annulus. This happens when the outer ring becomes too weak, injured or torn, thus allowing the inner portion to slip out of its place and cause pain and problem. This condition is usually a result of gradual age-related wear and tear of the disk, also known as disk degeneration. With age, the disks that support the vertebrae become less flexible and more prone to tearing and rupturing, even if caused by a simple strain, lift or twist. Though, lifting heavy and large object tend to put a lot of stress on the disk, making them more vulnerable to injury and slipping out of place. This is very common in people who have a physically demanding job.
Moreover, people who are overweight or obese are also at higher risk of a slipped disk problem. Weak muscles, laid back lifestyle, incorrect body posture, etc. can also increase risks of a herniated disk. Most commonly this condition affects men, though it can equally impact women of all ages. A slipped disk tends to generally occur in the lower back, but it can also affect the vertebrae of the neck.
When the inner jelly portion of the disk protrudes, it releases chemicals which irritate the nerves in the nearby area and cause intense pain. The prolapsed disk might also compress the other nerves, resulting in more acute pain.
Symptoms of Slipped Disk
A slipped disk can occur in any portion of the spine – neck to lower back; that said, the lower back disk slip is one of the common problems. The spinal cord is an intricate and complex network of nerves and blood vessels, which when affected due to pressure from the slipped disk, can cause a lot of significantly bad symptoms. Though in some people, there are no symptoms of the problem at all.
Some common symptoms of a slipped or herniated disk include:
- Acute pain and numbness usually on one side of the body
- Severe pain which moves to the arm or legs
- Pain which worsens with movement of any kind or especially during the night
- Pain which impacts your ability to stand and sit
- Extreme pain even while walking for shorter distances
- Muscle weakness
- Discomfort in the back hampering easy movement
- Tingling, aching, or burning sensations in the impacted area
- Pain in the back while initiated quick movement such as sneezing
Treatment of Slipped Disk
A slipped or herniated disk a very common medical problem with treatments ranging from conservative to surgical, for extreme cases. The type of treatment depends on the location of the slipped disk, the intensity of symptoms and the progression of the problem.
For most people, who have minor symptoms with little discomfort, certain exercises and accurate posture guidelines can help improve the situation. These can include exercises aimed at strengthening and stretching the back and the nearby muscles. A doctor may recommend directed physical therapy in such cases. Moreover, over-the-counter pain killers and relievers can help ease the problem.
Though, some people might prefer refraining from any physical activity due to the pain, doing so will cause even further complications such as stiffness and muscles weakness. Walking, light exercises and an active lifestyle are directed to help the problem.
For cases, where the patient experiences severe pain and is not being healed by physical therapy or medication, the following treatment options will be provided:
- Stronger medications such as muscle relaxers, narcotics, or other never pain medications
- Surgery, when symptoms do not subside in six weeks or the slipped disk, tends to affect the overall spinal muscle function
- Replacing the disk with an artificial one
- Removing the disk to fuse the vertebrae to provide stability
There are various types of surgeries such as a laminectomy, spinal fusion, microdiskectomy, etc. each of which has its pros and cons. The section of the surgery depends on the location of the disk, severity of pain and the overall health condition of the patient.