Herniated Disc (Slipped Disc)

A herniated disc, also known as a slipped disc, can lead to numbness or weakness in your back and leg. Find out more about the symptoms of a herniated disc and treatments here.

What Is a Herniated Disc?

The disc, or specifically the intervertebral disc, is a flat, circular structure in between each spinal bone. It has a central gel-like matrix (nucleus pulposus) that is encapsulated in outer layers of more fibrous tissues (annulus fibrosus). It serves to cushion impact and distribute load across the joint.

A “slipped disc”, or a herniated disc, is when the gelatinous nucleus pulposus squeezes through the annulus fibrosus and bulges into the spinal canal. This may cause nerve irritation or compression, leading to numbness or weakness in your back as well as your leg.

What Are the Common Causes of a Herniated Disc?

poor resting posture, such as slouched sitting
inappropriate lifting and/or carrying
poor back and abdominal muscle control
sudden or jerky movement, particularly during sports
lack of regular exercise, reduced fitness
other causes include a fall or traffic accident

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Herniated Disc?

pain in buttock, which radiates down to the back of the thigh and calf
pain may be aggravated by bending forward, coughing, sneezing or lifting heavy things
numbness or tingling in the distribution of the affected nerve root
leg muscle wasting (also known as muscle atrophy) and weakness; impaired tendons jerk 

What Are the Risk Factors?

People with physically-demanding jobs have a greater risk of back problems, as activities such as repetitive lifting/carrying, pulling, pushing and twisting may increase the risk of a slipped disc.

On the other hand, prolonged sitting or standing in one position may also increase the risk of a slipped disc. People who are overweight also have higher risk of a slipped disc, as excess body weight causes extra stress on the discs in the lower back.

What Are the Types of Treatment Available?

1. Physiotherapy

A physiotherapist can help to manage your pain using a variety of modalities, such as heat, ice, traction, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation. Exercises for the back, such as back stretching exercises and the McKenzie Back Extension, to minimise your pain will be taught too. As the pain improves, the physiotherapist will adjust your exercise programme, concentrating on lumbar stability exercises to maximise your back health and minimise future injury.

2. Surgical

Laminectomy — remove a small portion of the bone over the nerve root and/or disc material from under the nerve root to give the nerve root more space and a better healing environment
Disectomy — the disc is taken away to relieve the pressure on the nerve; afterwards, a piece of bone is used to bridge the gap between the vertebrae

What Can I Do to Help Myself?

You can help lower your risk of a herniated disc by ensuring good:
lifting technique
sitting posture and ergonomics

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