Slipped disc — overview and treatment options

The term slipped disc is a nonmedical term commonly used to describe bulging or herniated spinal discs. 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 as possible about the condition and treatment methods 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 nerve root or the spinal cord. The symptoms include:

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

Nerve 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 nerve compression in the 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 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 require overnight hospitalization and a long recovery period.

If you are dealing with a slipped disc and your doctor has recommended surgical treatment, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about our minimally invasive spine surgery. Our procedures use a less than 1-inch incision that spares supporting muscles and leads to a shorter recovery period^ compared to traditional open spine surgery.

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