A “slipped disc” is a common term that might spring to mind if you ever happen to injure your lower back. The term refers to a condition where the intervertebral discs of your lower back have been compromised. This weakening may allow the disc’s inner material (nucleus) to protrude beyond the boundary of the discs outer ligamentous ring. These different medical terms can be used interchangeably for a slipped disc, and these are; herniated, ruptured, bulged, protruding. 

In your spine between the vertebral bodies, discs help to act as shock absorbers and transfer loads through the spinal column and body. Slipped discs or injured discs may compress many spinal column structures such as blood vessels and, nerve roots.

How does a slipped disc occur?

  • Natural degeneration and age cause the spinal discs to weaken and lose the ability to hold and absorb fluid, making it less tolerant of compression forces. 
  • Trauma such as a motor vehicle accident, sporting contact injury and is usually a result of a multi-direction force impact. e.g. loaded spinal flexion + rotation. Whiplash is another example of an acute trauma that can cause slipped discs. 

Causes of pain from slipped discs

You may experience pain at the local area of the slipped disc, radiating pain from a nerve root compression, pain above or below the slipped disc due to instability of the surrounding spinal segments attempting to assist and stabilise the injured area. A slipped disc can be completely painless and asymptomatic. Inflammatory agents at or around the slipped disc site may cause pain, swelling and loss of range of motion while the slipped disc is healing. This is, in fact, a good response as inflammation is apart of the healing process, but it is essential to manage that inflammation closely. 

Importance of a correct diagnosis

A correct diagnosis allows a thorough treatment plan and to rule out other potential causes of similiar pain such as tumors, fractures, muscle tears. The treatment plan will involve pain management, inflammation control, movement reintegration and education.