What is a slipped disc?
Vertebrae in the spinal column are cushioned by discs, which consist of a jelly-like interior and a tough, rubbery exterior. Contrary to popular belief, a disc does not actually slip out of its position and does not have to be put back in place hence the more accurate way to describe this condition is a disc herniation. When disc herniation occurs, the jelly-like inner portion protrudes through a tear in the outer portion. It is commonly caused by wear and tear, as discs lose their elasticity over time and become more susceptible to damage.
A herniated disc may occur anywhere along the spine, but most commonly in the lower back. Depending on the location of the disc, it may cause pain or numbness in one’s arms or legs if the herniated disc material compresses one of the spinal nerves.
How do I know if I might have a disc herniation?
It is usually diagnosed through a physical examination carried out by a Doctor or Physiotherapist. Depending on the nature of your back pain and associated symptoms, the medical specialist might order some scans to help determine if there is a specific cause for your pain. In most cases however, MRI findings might not correspond to your symptoms and would require a treatment based on the physical findings of your Doctor or Physiotherapist.
- Lower back pain
- Neck pain (if it happens in the neck!)
- Numbness/tingling in shoulders, back, or limbs
- Difficulty straightening/bending back
- Numbness/pain travelling down buttock or leg
- Pain when raising legs while lying down
How is acute lower back diagnosed and managed?
It is usually diagnosed through a physical examination which is carried out by a Doctor or Physiotherapist. Depending on the nature of your back pain and associated symptoms, the medical specialist would likely order an to help determine if there is a specific cause for your pain. Conservative management through nerve pain medications and Physiotherapy is always the preferred first line of treatment and only in rare and more severe cases would a surgical intervention be warranted.
How can Physiotherapy help?
The Physiotherapist will carry out an assessment of lower back region as well as your lower limbs. This would include an assessment of the range of movements in your lower back and a neurological examination of your lower limbs to determine the extent of nerve disturbance. The role of the Physiotherapist is to identify problem areas in the lower back so that treatment can be targeted and effective.
Treatment may include but is not limited to:
- Advise and education pertaining to your condition
- Soft tissue therapy
- Movement with mobilisation
- Heat therapy
- Dry needling
- Nerve mobility exercises
How do I know if my condition is severe?
If you have a combination of the following symptoms, immediate medical attention is warranted:
- Bladder/bowel incontinence
- Unsteady gait
- Loss of balance
- Saddle anaesthesia (numbness around the groin)
- Worsening severe lower back pain
Can I recover from a disc herniation?
Yes you certainly can! There have been instances where the herniated material has been absorbed back into the body thus causing less compression and irritation to the spinal cord. However, this might be over a period of time roughly from about 3-6months. In this conservative approach, the symptoms are normally managed with medications and Physiotherapy.