Slipped disc symptoms are caused when an intervertebral disc in the spinal column protrudes out or breaks open, allowing disc tissue to impinge on nearby nerve roots and/or the spinal cord. The term “slipped disc” is actually a misnomer, as the condition does not involve disc slippage, but rather the rupture or herniation of a disc, or the bulging of a disc’s outer wall beyond its normal boundary.
Slipped disc symptoms can originate within any part of the spine – from the neck to the lower back – and symptoms also can radiate to other parts of the body. Most frequently, however, symptoms emanate from the lumbar region, or lower back, because that area of the spine supports a great amount of weight and endures repeated stress daily, making it more prone to disc collapse, bulging, herniation, and other degeneration through the years.
What a Slipped Disc Feels Like
Symptoms of a slipped disc in the lower back include pain in the area of the herniated disc, as well as pain numbness, tingling, and weakness that radiates to the buttocks, legs, and feet. Similarly, a slipped disc in the neck (cervical spine) also can produce numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, and pain, but these symptoms typically are concentrated in the cervical area of the spine as well as the shoulders, arms, and hands. Headaches are another possible symptom of a slipped or bulging disc in the neck.
In severe slipped disc cases, patients may experience paralysis, bowel dysfunction, or bladder dysfunction, which indicates a life-threatening medical emergency called cauda equina syndrome that must be treated immediately with surgery.
Diagnosing Slipped Disc Symptoms
Slipped disc symptoms are similar to the symptoms of a number of other back and neck conditions, so in order to ensure the most successful slipped disc treatment, it’s important to get a proper diagnosis. Your physician can diagnose your condition by conducting a physical examination and exploring your complete medical history. An X-ray, CT scan, or MRI may be necessary in order to rule out other conditions.
An important part of the diagnostic process is the question-and-answer session with the doctor during the initial visit. This might be conducted in writing and explored further during the face-to-face meeting with the doctor, or the doctor might simply ask you a series of questions verbally. While family medical history is an important factor in determining the cause of back pain and other symptoms, one of the most vital pieces of data you can supply your doctor is information about the symptoms themselves. For instance:
- When did they first occur?
- What physical activity might have triggered them?
- Are there any physical actions, such as leaning forward over a shopping cart or lifting a heavy object, that seem to exacerbate or reduce the pain?
- How would you gauge the severity of the symptoms?
These and other questions can help your doctor pinpoint the precise cause of your distress. The more you can tell your doctor about your condition, the more helpful you’ll be.
Treating Slipped Disc Symptoms
In most cases, slipped disc symptoms are treatable using conservative therapies, such as stretching, exercise, activity modification, ice and heat applications, corticosteroid injections, and anti-inflammatory drugs. For patients who experience severe, limiting pain or symptoms that continue to worsen even after several weeks or months of conservative treatment, slipped disc surgery may be recommended.
There are now successful minimally invasive surgeries that take about an hour to complete and can provide slipped disc patients with relief – such as the outpatient, laser-assisted procedures offered at Laser Spine Institute (LSI). Our safe and effective endoscopic procedures are used to treat slipped disc symptoms as well as other neck and back conditions, but with drastically reduced tissue damage and recovery times compared to open back surgery. To learn how LSI’s state-of-the-art procedures can help you find relief from pain, contact us today for a complimentary review of your MRI or CT scan.