What is a Slipped Disc?

A slipped disc, also known as a herniated or prolapsed disc, occurs when a disc in the spine moves out of place and presses on spinal nerves. This condition is characterised by displacing the disc’s soft, gelatinous inner part through a tear in its tough outer ring.

Such displacement can lead to discomfort, pain, and other symptoms due to nerve pressure. The spine’s discs act as cushions between the vertebrae, providing support and flexibility to the backbone. This condition can affect any part of the spine but most commonly occurs in the lower back.

Causes of a Slipped Disc

A slipped disc can result from several factors contributing to the spinal disc’s degradation or strain. Common causes include:

Age-related Wear and Tear

As people age, their spinal discs naturally lose some of their water content, making them less flexible and more prone to tearing or rupturing with even a minor strain or twist.

Physical Strain

Heavy lifting, sudden movements, or awkward back twisting can put excessive pressure on the discs, leading to a herniation.


Accidents or injuries can cause direct damage to the discs, leading to a slipped disc. This includes falls, vehicular accidents, and sports injuries.

Lifestyle Factors

Certain lifestyle choices, such as lack of regular exercise, smoking, and obesity, can increase the risk of developing a slipped disc.

Genetic Predisposition

In some cases, a genetic component may make certain people more susceptible to disc problems, including slipped discs.

Symptoms of a Slipped Disc

The symptoms of a slipped disc vary depending on the disc’s location and whether the disc is pressing on a nerve. They can range from no symptoms at all to severe pain and disability. Key symptoms include:

  • Pain and Numbness: Localised pain on one side of the body, often with numbness or tingling.
  • Muscle Weakness: Affected muscles may weaken, impairing the ability to handle objects.
  • Radiating Pain: Pain may extend to arms or legs, notably as sciatica in the leg if the lower back is involved.
  • Loss of Bowel or Bladder Control: A severe symptom requiring immediate medical intervention.

Diagnosing a Slipped Disc

Diagnosing a slipped disc involves a combination of clinical assessment and imaging studies to confirm the presence and exact location of the herniated disc. The steps typically include:

Clinical Evaluation

A thorough medical history and physical examination will be done. During the exam, they will check for the source of the pain, nerve function, and muscle strength. Specific movements that worsen the pain may also be identified.

Imaging Studies

Imaging tests are employed to confirm the diagnosis and pinpoint the exact location of the slipped disc. These may include:

  • MRI scans are commonly used to provide detailed images of the disc’s condition and its impact on surrounding nerves.
  • CT Scans offer cross-sectional views when MRI is unavailable or to gain a different perspective.
  • X-rays, though unable to show the discs themselves, help rule out other causes of back pain, such as fractures or tumours.

Treatment Options

Treatment for a slipped disc varies based on the severity of symptoms and the disc’s condition. The primary aim is alleviating pain, promoting healing, and preventing further injury. Treatment options include:

Conservative Treatments

Most cases can be managed without surgery, focusing on relieving symptoms:

  • Physical Therapy: Tailored exercises strengthen the back, improve flexibility, and relieve pressure on the affected nerve.
  • Medications: Pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, and muscle relaxants help manage pain and swelling.
  • Rest: Short rest periods, followed by gradual increases in activity, can aid recovery without worsening the condition.

Interventional Treatments

If symptoms persist, more direct treatments may be recommended:

  • Epidural Steroid Injections: Reduce inflammation around the nerve roots, providing temporary relief.
  • Nerve Block Injections: Specifically target nerves to alleviate pain.


Surgery may be considered for those who do not respond to other treatments or experience severe symptoms:

  • Discectomy: Removal of the herniated portion of the disc to relieve nerve pressure.
  • Laminectomy: Removal of part of the bone or ligaments in the back to increase space around the spinal cord.

Recovery and Rehabilitation

A slipped disc’s recovery and rehabilitation process is designed to gradually restore strength, flexibility, and function to the affected area. This phase aims to prevent recurrence and ensure a successful return to daily activities:

  • Physical Therapy: Central to recovery, it involves exercises that target the back and core muscles, improving stability and flexibility.
  • Pain Management: Techniques such as heat and cold therapy, electrical stimulation, and acupuncture can complement medications to manage pain during recovery.
  • Lifestyle Adjustments: Implementing ergonomic changes at work and home, practising proper lifting techniques, and maintaining a healthy weight are vital to support spine health.
  • Gradual Return to Activity: Patients are encouraged to slowly reintegrate into normal activities, avoiding sudden movements or heavy lifting until fully recovered.

The recovery duration varies, depending on the severity of the slipped disc and the chosen treatment method. Adhering to a comprehensive rehabilitation plan is key to a successful outcome.

Prevention Tips

While preventing a slipped disc is not always possible, certain practices can significantly reduce the risk of developing this condition. These include:

  • Maintain Good Posture: Proper alignment when sitting, standing, and moving can minimise pressure on the spine and discs.
  • Regular Exercise: Activities that strengthen the core and back muscles support the spine, reducing the burden on the discs.
  • Healthy Weight: Maintaining a healthy weight limits the stress on the spine, decreasing the risk of disc problems.
  • Lift Properly: Use the legs rather than the back when lifting heavy objects to distribute the weight more evenly.
  • Avoid Smoking: Smoking reduces blood flow to the discs, contributing to their degeneration.
  • Stay Active: Regular physical activity keeps the back flexible and strong, protecting the spinal discs.


With appropriate treatment and preventive measures for slipped discs, many can fully recover and minimise the risk of recurrence. People must maintain a proactive approach to spinal health through regular exercise, proper posture, and a healthy lifestyle. Early intervention and adherence to prescribed treatment plans are key to effectively managing this condition.