Herniated Disc (Slipped Disc) – What is it, Symptoms and Remedies

What is a Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc is sometimes also referred to as a Slipped disc and occurs when the nucleus (jelly centre of the disc) pushes out and irritates a nerve along its path.

You may experience pain or numbness around the area of the slipped disc, or down your buttocks and leg. 

A herniated disc may commonly be referred to as:

  • Bulging disc
  • Slipped disc
  • Pinched nerve
  • Prolapsed disc

What causes disc herniation?

Your backbone has a series of vertebrae (individual bones) which collectively make up your spine. These discs act as shock-absorbers for the spine and allow your spine to move and bend around.  

A slipped disc can occur anywhere along your spine but is more common across the two regions: upper neck and the lower back. 

Disc herniation can occur anywhere along the spine and occurs when the nucleus (jelly like centre of the disc) pushes out and irritate a nerve. 

The leading causes behind a slipped disc include: 

  • Disc degeneration
  • An activity which causes stress placed on your back

Disc Degeneration

A herniated disc can occur from gradual aging and disc degeneration; which is the result of a gradual wear and tear over time. 

Over time, our discs in the spine wear out and begin to break down. One possible symptom of degeneration is a tiny rupture of the discs outer layer, which causes the nucleus to force out and affect the surrounding nerve. 

Strenuous Activities

Any activity or thing you do that causes stress being subjected to your back muscles, can create a risk of disc herniation.

This includes:

  • Lifting objects: lifting large or heavy objects can place more strain on your back, particularly if your posture is not correct. Using your legs to support lifting can help reduce the strain on your back. 
  • Weight: Those who are overweight are at risk of suffering a slipped disc. Excess weight can put stress on the discs of your lower back. 
  • Exercise: Incorrect posture, or over straining your lower or upper back can increase the risk of slipped disc. People often find Squats and Deadlifts as being their triggers for a disc herniation due to bad form. Shoulder press exercises can lead to slipped discs in your neck area. 

While a slipped disc can be painful, in most cases the painfulness of a slipped disc can be eased with time (which we explain below), and many people live with this condition without realising it. 

Why does a Slipped Disc cause pain?

By its nature, the consequence of a slipped disc is it irritates the surrounding nerve. This is also referred to as a “pinched nerve”.

The material which leaks out of the disc can irritate (pinch / touch) a nearby nerve which causes the pain in the area. 

This pain can be a sharp pain down directly on your back. Or it may be travelling down by your leg and to your feet. Where the pain goes further down behind your leg, the chances are the disc is touching the sciatic nerve. This is referred to as Sciatica.

What does a slipped disc look like?

Symptoms of a Herniated Disc 

You could suffer with a slipped disc anywhere along your spine, so symptoms could vary depending on the position and severity of the herniation. 

However, it is more common to suffer from a herniated disc around the lower back (you may hear of S4/L4 regions) and they often display symptoms across one side of your body. 

Symptoms could include

  • Pain in the back: naturally, you may feel a pain in the region of the slipped disc. This could be when you sit down, stand-up or lie down. It is common to feel a pain when stretching, too. 
  • Pain in the buttocks, or leg: if your herniated disc is in the lower back region, you may experience a pain in your buttocks or legs. This is because the herniation is affecting a nerve which shoots pain down. 
  • Numbness: Another symptom of a herniated disc is numbness. You may find a numbness around the area of the slipped disc. 

Some people suffer from no symptoms. It is considered that if the extent of the leaking nucleus is small, or away from the nerve, then there is nothing to put pressure on or pinch the nerve.

Treating a Herniated or Slipped Disc, non-surgically

Depending on the cause of the slipped disc, it is likely you will be able to remedy and prevent the issue or pain occurring in the future, using non-surgical treatments and remedies. 

The important thing is, where possible, maintain your routine. By resting, you may inadvertently cause more pain as you reduce the strength and stamina of your body which will place more stress on your back. 

Over time, your body will work to reduce the inflammation of the extruding nucleus which is pinching your nerve. And as this shrinks, so will your pain. 

Some options of non-surgical remedies include: 

  • Stretching: A form of stretching and core strengthening exercises maybe prescribed by your treatment provider. Stretching your back and legs helps improve mobility and reduce the stress placed on the spine with short, sudden movements. It is common to suffer a slipped disc if you have tight hamstrings, as this pulls down on your pelvic muscles, which in turn places extra stress on your spine. Putting you at greater risk of injury.
  • Exercise: Exercise helps build strength to those muscle groups which support your back, ideal for when you lift heavy objects. Your legs and core muscles are vital support structures to your back. If either of these is weak, you spine is at greater risk of damage.
  • Massage: a regular, soft tissue massage can help keep your muscles relaxed and assist your stretching. This prevents any sudden tightness when moving, which could risk herniating your disc.
  • Nutrition: the slipped disc is essentially an inflammation. By taking nutrients rich in anti-inflammatories, such as Turmeric, Ginger & Fenugreek, you can help reduce the overall pain experienced in the long term.
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