The spine consists of 26 vertebrae, bones between which soft discs surrounded by a jelly-like substance act as cushions to keep them in place. A slipped disk, also known as a herniated disk, occurs when one of these disks slips out of place or ruptures, often causing pain or discomfort due to nerve pressure. Slipped disks can cause pain due to irritation of surrounding nerves. Some patients experience no pain from this condition, though others may experience severe pain, and surgery is rarely necessary.
Slipped disks may be caused by the breaking down of the connective tissue the disk is made up of due to aging. Slipped disks are most common in patients aged 30 to 50 years. The condition usually occurs in the lower section of the back. Physical exertion in certain sports or activities may also be the cause of a slipped disk.
Symptoms of slipped disks are a result of the irritation of nearby spinal nerves; this can cause a variety of pain symptoms dependent upon the location of the slipped disk. These symptoms may include numbness or tingling, weakness, pain associated with movement and radiating pain. The sciatic nerve is most commonly affected when a slipped disc occurs, as it is the longest nerve in the human body. In the case of sciatic nerve pressure due to a slipped disc, patients may experience symptoms including aching, numbness and tingling.
Patients are recommended to rest and limit physical activity until the pain and weakness begin to subside. Strenuous activity should be avoided, especially in cases of lower back slipped disks which usually involve back and leg pain. Corticosteroids or muscle relaxers may be used to assist patients in dealing with the symptoms, especially severe pain. If symptoms persist and no recovery seems imminent, patients may require surgery to fix the problem.
Patients usually require around four to six weeks to fully recover from a slipped disc, and the condition may be treated with physical therapy along with medication. Slipped discs often shrink back from the nerve easing any pain or irritation experienced by the patient; healing naturally. In very serious cases, loss of bladder or bowel control may occur, if these symptoms are experienced, it is important to contact your doctor immediately.