A slipped disc also called herniated or prolapsed disc, occurs when a disc found between individual bones of the backbone gets damaged and presses on the spinal cord.
Your backbone is made up of 26 separate bones. In between every two of these bones lies a disc that serves as a cushion to the backbone by absorbing the shock of the day to day activities.
The inner part of this disc is soft with a tough outer layer. When injured or damaged, the soft inner part protrudes through the tough outer portion. This condition is called a slipped disc, and it causes pain and discomfort. If this herniated disc presses on any nerve of the spinal cord, numbness, tingling sensation and pain are felt along the nerves that are affected. Surgery is needed in extreme cases to repair the herniated disc.
Symptoms of a Slipped Disk
A slipped disk can place extra weight on the nerves and muscles around it. Symptoms of a slipped disk include:
- Feeling of pain, tingling sensation and numbness which are mostly one-sided.
- A painful that ascends to the hands or extends to your legs
- Pain that gets worse at night
- A pain that becomes worse after sitting or standing
- Pain experienced during a short distance walk
- Unexplained muscle weakness
- Tingling, burning or aching, sensations felt in the area that is affected
The types of pain differ from individual to individual. It is good to see your physician when any symptoms especially numbness and tingling sensation prevents you from having full control of your muscles.
Causes of Slipped Disks
A slipped disk is caused by any condition that weakens the outer portion of the disc, allowing the soft inner layer to protrude. This becomes possible with age, or with a particular movement of the body that twists or turns the spine suddenly. Such motions can be seen in lifting a hefty and large object. This puts a severe strain on the lower back which could lead to a slipped disc.
Overweight and obese people are also at greater risk to develop slipped disc because of the extra weight that their disc is made to support. Muscle weakness and physical inactivity (sedentary lifestyle) could also predispose one to a herniated disc.
How Are Slipped Disks Diagnosed?
Your doctor will first physically examine your back to ascertain the source of your pain. This examination will include checking your muscle strength, nerve function, and determining when you feel this discomfort – whether it comes when you walk, rest or when the affected part is moved or touched. You will be asked about your past medical history when the first episode of the pain was felt and the activities that improve or worsen the symptoms.
Your physician then proceeds to view the individual bones of your spine and muscles through imaging test to check out for damaged parts. Examples of imaging scans include:
- CT scans and
- MRI scans
Treatment of Slipped Disks
The treatment method employed will be determined by the severity of the pain one is experiencing and how bad the protruded disc has gone. The treatment option ranges from conservative to surgical.
Exercises found to stretch and strengthen the back muscles can be done to relieve herniated disc pain. A physiotherapist also puts on through some sessions of exercises that gives strength to the back and contributes to your pain reduction.
Avoiding lifting of heavy objects and painful positions as well as taking over-the-counter painkillers can be helpful also.
Avoiding physical activities during the periods of the discomfort could lead to joint stiffness and muscle weakness. Therefore, it is better to indulge in activities of low intensities like walking.
If your painkillers do not resolve your pain and discomfort, the following stronger groups of drugs can be prescribed for you. They are:
- Muscle relaxants to treat muscle spasms
- Narcotic to kill the pain
- Nerve pain medications
Surgery is recommended if your symptoms of slipped disc persist for six weeks and are affects the function of your muscles.
Prevention Of Slipped Disc
You can only take measure to reduce your chances of getting a herniated disc. Preventing it may not be possible. These measures include:
- Use safe lifting methods: Bend and lift from your knees, not your waist.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Avoid sitting or standing for a lengthy time. Move or stretch periodically.
- Perform strengthening exercises to give stability to the muscles of your leg, abdomen, and back.
Herniated Disc Pain Management
There are many ways to go about decreasing the amount of pain you are in, it would really depend on how severe your symptoms are and what types of pain treatment you could attempt.
Inexpensive treatments that can help those who are suffering from a herniated disc are:
This type of therapy is best used in the first few days of pain. If you are experiencing pain and swelling. Ice the area for about 5 minutes. Then allow adequate time for your skin to warm back up and never apply ice directly to the skin as this can cause frostbite. You can use ice cubes or crushed ice that is in a bag or towel. Cold packs or wraps that can be purchased at a drug store. If you cannot manage to find any of the above, you could wet a towel and freeze it.
This therapy can be used to reduce pain. It should never be used if there is any inflammation or swelling as the heat will make it worse. There are inexpensive heat therapies that are only applied to the surface of the skin and a more expensive treatment that can penetrate the deep tissues. Some inexpensive ways of using heat therapy are hot water bottles, heated gel packs or wraps, electrical heating pads, or a warm bath. For deep tissue therapy, you would use a procedure like ultrasound. Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound to penetrate deep inside your tissue and promote faster healing.
Can be used to treat pain and inflammation. The two types commonly used are:
- Analgesics such as Tylenol for pain.
- NSAID’s such as Advil, Aleve or Aspirin for pain and inflammation.
If your pain is not being controlled properly with these over the counter medications you may be able to have a prescription written for you by your doctor for a pain narcotic.
Epidural Steroid Injections
This is an injection of a very powerful anti-inflammatory medication, most often cortisone. It is administered in a doctor’s office and is usually better at controlling pain that is due to inflammation better than oral medications. The reason behind this is that the medication is delivered to the exact area that is causing your pain.
Bed rest and activity modification
Sometimes it is helpful to rest for a day or two if you are having severe back pain. You will want to limit your bed rest to no more than 2 days as it can have the opposite effect as your muscles may begin to weaken due to lack of use.
Often herniated disc sufferers do not give treatments enough time to work. You can expect it to take four to six weeks before you start to see a significant reduction in your back pain.
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