Slipped discs are very common, right? Well, to tell you the truth… they don’t actually happen! Find out what a slipped disc really is and how YOU can sort it out yourself.
Slipped disc, Herniated disc, disc bulge and sciatica are all interchangeable and often used to explain the same thing. Now I need to say first of all that intervertebral discs cannot actually “slip” as they are firmly attached to the vertebrae above and below vertebrae by very strong ligaments – Slipped disc is just a colloquial term which has bred a lot of fear over the years but really there is nothing to fear!
The two common sites for herniated discs are the lumbar spine (low back) and the Cervical spine (neck). Today we are going to cover the low back as this is the most common, but stay tuned for self-treatment of herniated discs in the neck!
Discs cannot actually “slip” as they are firmly attached to the vertebrae above and below vertebrae by very strong ligaments
The spine is made up of vertebrae stacked on top of each other, held together by ligament and muscle. in between each vertebra is an intervertebral disc. Now in the lumbar spine, there are 5 vertebrae and the most common level for disc herniations are L5/S1 – this is the Disc between your lowest lumbar vertebrae and your Sacrum. roughly 80% occur here with the second most at L4/5 above it.
The Lumbar discs are made up of a harder outer layer, holding in a gooey middle.
How does a Disc herniation occur?
When too much force is repeatedly put through the front of the disc (such as bending forward, slouching and lifting heavy objects) the gooey center of the disc is forced forward and eventually (after thousands of bends)it forces through the outer layer.
A lot of Discs are injured doing very simple things light, changing a light bulb or picking up a baby but it is not that action that does it, it is a build up over time and it can take any little thing to tip it over the edge!
Now there is different levels of disc damage as you can see in the picture below:
Now, sequestrations are serious and often need surgery but the remaining levels can be and should be treated conservatively (non-surgically) first.
Depending on the level of disc herniation, they can cause symptoms in different places down the leg due to the nerve roots that get annoyed. Keep in mind though that Disc herniations often do not have pain or change on sensation into the legs – there is a very wide range of presentations.
Herniated disc symptoms: You can have some or all of these.
- Pain worse in the morning and cold/bad weather
- Sciatica – Common back and leg pain caused by irritation to one of the 5 Lumbar spinal nerves. The nerves are irritated by the disc compressing on it or inflammation from the disc herniation. This usually only occurs down one leg.
- Back spasm – often people are given this as a diagnosis but muscle spasm DOES NOT HAPPEN FOR NO REASON – there is always something behind it. Muscles around your back tighten up and go into spasm to protect your back and try to stabilize it so that no more damage is done.This is called muscle guarding and is a natural mechanism initially but in the following days, it can lead to a lot of discomfort, pain, and limitation.
- Aggravated by sitting, prolonged standing, bending and twisting.
Recovery and healing time
Recovery: Up to 80 percent recover within 6 weeks
Healing time: 12-18 months due to poor blood flow into the discs.
When to go to the hospital or see your Doctor
- Weakness in your legs
- Change in bladder or bowel (toileting) function.
- Constant unremitting pain or pain not improving
If in doubt see your local health professional as this information is not meant to replace the assessment and advice of a health professional.
“Slipped disc” Self-treatment
1. keep active: back in the day bed rest was the first port of call, now it is the opposite. keeping relatively active is the best thing for your back and you need to remember that the chances are your back will get better and that over 80% of the population get back pain just like yours!
2. Exercises: to get the right muscles firing again to stabilize your spine and to loosen off the tight muscles (so that you dont feel hunched over and shuffling!) follow this link: Must know exercises for acute low back pain
3. Stiffness in your upper spine puts a huge amount more stress though your low spine and gets worse when in back pain! Here is a great way to mobilise your own spine
4. The greatest exercise for Disc Herniations: this exercise was developed by a top Physiotherapist Robin McKenzie. Repeated Extensions In Lying (REIL) act to centralise the disc and gradually reduce the disc Herniation.
Position: Lying on your Front with your hands in front of you like you are going to do a push up.
Action: Keeping your hips and back relaxed, push your shoulders up. Do not push into pain, so stop when and if you feel pain and hold it for 10 seconds then relax down and repeat 10 times.
Initially start on you elbows as shown, then progress to straight arms.
Reps and sets: 10 x 10 second holds 3 x daily
Remember: if pain worsens with this exercise do not push as far or as hard. If pain continues to worsen then consult a health professional.
These easy steps will help you so much, just remember that you WILL have good days and bad days but if you stick to the above 4 things, your Disc pain will get a lot better. Try and persevere with these exercises for 6 weeks at least!
Let me know how you get on and don’t forget to like, share and follow and remember, a slipped disc doesn’t exist!
For a more thorough rehab plan, download our Complete Low Back Self-Rehab Guide