What is a slipped disc and how is it treated?

The term slipped disc is commonly used for either a bulging or herniated spinal disc and does not describe a separate medical condition. If you have been told you have a slipped disc, even by your doctor, it is strongly recommended that you get clarification about exactly what condition you have.

A slipped disc does not always cause symptoms but can become chronic and debilitating if displaced disc material puts pressure on a spinal nerve. If this is your situation, the good news is treatment to get you back to a full and active life is possible. A first step should be learning as much about the condition and treatment methods as possible so you and your doctor can develop a care plan that works for you.

What is a slipped disc?

One reason this term is not accepted as medical terminology is because it can cause confusion. Saying there is a slipped disc can make it sound like the disc has fully slipped out from between the vertebrae, which is not the case.

Both herniated and bulging discs are usually caused by age-related deterioration of the spine. The natural aging process and everyday wear can cause the spinal discs to dehydrate and lose their shape. When this happens, pressure from the surrounding vertebrae can cause the perimeter of a disc to bulge — or slip — into the spinal canal. A herniated disc happens when pressure from the center of the disc actually causes a tear in the lining, forcing the jellylike material out of the disc.

What are the symptoms of a slipped disc?

The nerves in the lining of a disc become irritated when they come into contact with enzymes in the center, causing symptoms of localized pain and inflammation. Radiating symptoms also occur if displaced disc material comes into contact with a spinal nerve root or the spinal cord. The symptoms include:

  • Shooting or burning pain
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Muscle weakness

Neural compression in the cervical (upper) spine causes symptoms to radiate to the head, neck, shoulders, arms or hands. A patient with a slipped disc that causes neural compression in his or her lumbar (lower) spine experiences symptoms in the lower back, hips, buttocks, legs or feet.

How are slipped discs treated?

Many patients diagnosed with slipped discs can manage their symptoms with conservative, nonsurgical treatments such as pain medication and physical therapy. If nonsurgical treatments prove ineffective after several weeks or months, you might be advised to undergo surgical treatment. Traditional open back surgery is usually seen as a treatment of last resort because it involves large, muscle-tearing incisions that lead to overnight hospitalization and a long recovery period.

If you are dealing with a slipped disc and your physician has recommended surgical treatment, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about our minimally invasive spine surgery. Our procedures use a smaller incision that spares supporting muscles and lead to a shorter recovery period^ compared to traditional open spine surgery.

Contact our Care Team for a no-cost MRI review* to see if you may be a candidate for our minimally invasive outpatient procedures.