What are the causes and symptoms of slipped disc?

What are the causes and symptoms of slipped disc?

The spine in the human body consists of spinal bones called vertebrae, a spinal cord and intervertebral discs. The vertebrae are arranged on top of one another like a stack of coins, and together they form a hollow tube that houses the spinal cord. The spinal cord is the main highway of nerves that connect that brain to the rest of the body. In between each vertebrae are soft, jelly-like discs that act as shock-absorbent cushions and allow movements of the spine. The disc has a tough outer shell called the annulus fibrosus and an inner jelly-like center called the nucleus pulposus. When the outer shell breaks off due to certain causes, the inner jelly-like center is spilled or pushed outwards. As such, the herniated disc material and the bulging of the disc can cause symptoms to the patients. This is what doctors refer to as a slipped disc, or a herniated disc due to the herniation. Medically, this disease is known as a prolapsed intervertebral disc (PID). Fortunately, patients with slipped disc can be effectively treated with the right and proper slipped disc treatments, which include conservative and surgical treatments. 

What are the causes of slipped disc?

There are a number of causes of slipped discs. Ageing is one of the main causes. As a person ages, the outer tough shell becomes weaker and can easily tear under sudden increase of pressure. Besides, certain movements may cause a slipped disc, such as lifting very heavy objects or twisting violently. For this reason, bodybuilders who frequently lift heavy weights in the less than proper forms often result in slipped discs. Occupations that have a high physical demand like lifting boxes or transporting heavy objects over shoulders can increase the risk of the person getting a slipped disc as well. 

The disc is also at a higher risk of tearing and slipping in overweight individuals because of the additional weight that it must support. Moreover, sedentary lifestyles and lack of exercise can contribute to the occurrence of a slipped disc due to the weak supporting muscles of the back and spine. Since men are often involved more in the physical labour and have a heavier body weight, it is no surprise that more men have slipped discs compared to women.

What are the symptoms of slipped disc?

Symptoms of slipped disc include pain, tingling or numbness over a body part due to the nerve branches supplying it being compressed or irritated by the herniated disc. The affected body part depends on the precise location of the slipped disc as it can occur anywhere along the spin. Patients may have symptoms just over one side of the arm or body if the slipped disc occured at the neck level of the spine, or have symptoms over one side of the leg if it occurred at the lower back. Pain caused by slipped discs may worsen during movements like sitting, standing or walking. Clinically, the lower back is the most common area to be affected by slipped discs. The severity of symptoms also depend on the degree of herniation. There are four stages of disc herniation. The severe one may result in pain combined with a radiculopathy, which means neurological deficit. Fortunately, slipped discs do not always cause symptoms. 

However, see a doctor immediately if you have symptoms such as: 

  • New back pain at the groin region
  • Back pain or leg pain accompanied with weakness and difficulty controlling bowel and bladder functions
  • Foot drop, a condition when the person is unable to lift up his foot
  • Back pain or leg pain along with a fever 

These symptoms may indicate something more sinister than just a simple slipped disc and require urgent medical attention and intervention.