You may have heard the term “slipped disc.” Perhaps you’ve heard it from someone to whom you were describing your uncomfortable symptoms such as back or neck pain. This term is not commonly used in medicine, but it is widely used to loosely describe herniated and bulging spinal discs. If a friend or even your general physician has suggested that you may have a slipped disc, it is essential that you obtain a thorough evaluation from a back specialist so a proper diagnosis can be made.
What is a slipped disc?
The idea of a slipped disc is unsettling because it creates the illusion that a disc has literally slipped out of place; that it is no longer positioned between two vertebrae. This is the very reason why slipped disc is not a medical term.
A bulging or herniated disc is usually related to the aging process and the deterioration of spinal structure that occurs over time. The discs that sit between the bones of the spinal column tend to become dehydrated as we age. Without proper lubrication contained within the disc, shape diminishes. This change in form invites pressure from vertebrae, which leads to bulging along the outer rim of the disc. Herniation, on the other hand, occurs when pressure on the central part of a disc causes tearing at the outer lining. The gel-like disc material then protrudes from that tear.
Signs of a Slipped Disc
When enzymes in the center of a disc come into contact with nerves that line the disc, irritation occurs. This leads to inflammation, which leads to pain. In the case of a herniated disc, the displacement of the gel-like disc material may irritate the spinal cord or a nerve root, leading to radiating symptoms such as numbness, tingling, burning or shooting pain, and muscle weakness along the affected nerve pathway.
Treating the Slipped Disc
A thorough consultation and examination are necessary because we need to understand the true nature of the disc problem to treat pain appropriately. In many cases, conservative treatments such as physical therapy and medication are prescribed for disc problems. However, surgical treatment is valuable for patients whose pain persists.
As the Surgeon-in-Chief and Medical Director for the Hospital for Special Surgery, Dr. Albert has helped thousands of patients overcome chronic back pain through carefully developed treatment plans tailored to their needs. To learn more about treatment options for herniated and bulging discs, call our NYC office at 212-606-1004.