How Do You Treat Slipped Spinal Discs?

Ask The Doctor > Back Pain > How Do You Treat Slipped Spinal Discs?

Spinal injuries are some of the most common but also dangerous injuries that happen to people of all ages. Although protected by vertebrae, when these vertebrae move or become damaged, injuries to the spinal cord can result. One of the most common spinal injuries is something called a slipped disk.

Between each vertebrae is a gelatinous-like fluid that helps cushion the impact that everyday life (and strenuous activity) puts on the vertebral column. When someone slips (or ‘herniates’) one of these soft disks, it can please a lot of stress and pressure on the delicate and sensitive spinal cord. In some extreme cases, the disk may require surgery. Although you can have a slipped disc anywhere along the spinal cord, the most common area for a herniated disk is the lower back, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

What Causes a Disk to Slip?

A disc can slip at any time during activity, but most commonly happens due to strenuous activity, such as lifting extremely large and heavy objects, and/or age. Slipping a disc most commonly occurs to individuals who are about thirty-five to forty-five years old. This happens because the protective disc loses some of its jelly-like properties as you get older. Those who are overweight or have physically demanding jobs are also at higher risk.

The common symptoms of a slipped disk include:

  • Pain that extends to the legs and/or arms
  • Pain and numbness, usually on one side of the body
  • Pain when walking short distances
  • Aching, tingling, or burning feelings in the affected area
  • Pain that worsens at night
  • Muscle weakness

The type of pain and how or where it is felt varies depending on the person. If left untreated, a complication called Saddle Anesthesia may occur. When this occurs, the slipped disc pushes on the nerves to the point that someone will lose the sensation in the back of their legs, near the rectum and on the inner sides. Although the symptoms may improve over time, they can also get worse. It is important to get checked by a doctor. To look for a slipped disc, a doctor may use CT Scans, X-Rays or MRI Scans.

If They Can Be Dangerous, What Kinds of Treatment Options Are There?

There are surgical means yet there are more conservative treatments. The actual treatment generally depends on the amount of pain and discomfort you’re feeling. An exercise program that strengthens the area surrounding the disc can be implemented. This is usually combined with treatments for pain. Although you may feel you need to rest, movement and physical treatment are needed to reduce the discomfort. Muscle relaxers, narcotics or over-the-counter pain medicines may be used to relieve discomfort. If severe, the disc may require surgery. The protruding portion of the disc may be removed, or the entire disc. In the most severe cases may be treated by replacing the disc.

In order to avoid slipping a disc, be sure to use safe techniques to lift and move objects. Lift from the knees and never the waist or back. Make sure to maintain a healthy weight, do not become stagnant, and make sure to strengthen and exercise the muscles of your back.

Was this answer helpful?

Dr. Jimmy Obaji M.D.

Dr. Jimmy Obaji completed his residency in Family Medicine at the University of Manitoba. He currently operates a walk-in-clinic in downtown Toronto.

Book Appointment