Is “slipped disc” an accurate diagnosis?

The term “slipped disc” is very common and is typically used to describe the source of a person’s neck or back pain when a portion of the disc moves outside of the vertebral bodies. A doctor may sometimes refer to a slipped disc upon discussing the debilitating symptoms in your spine. However, a slipped disc is actually not a recognized medical condition. This description usually refers to a degenerative disc condition like a protruding, bulging or herniated disc. While slipped disc is a widely used and understood term, it is important to know that it is not an accurate diagnosis of a spine condition. To find out more about the causes and treatment options if you have received a slipped disc diagnosis, read the information below.

How deterioration causes a slipped disc

Everyone experiences some level of deterioration in their spine, including the rubbery discs that act as shock absorbers for the vertebrae and joints. As part of the natural aging process, the discs begin to lose essential water content, which reduces their ability to flex and support the spine. In certain situations, the damage is bad enough to flatten the disc, causing it to bulge out between the vertebrae. Sometimes a rupture will occur and disc material pushes out into the spinal canal. These situations can certainly be described as a slipped disc, but they generally refer to these other more specific disc conditions, including:

  • Herniated disc. This occurs when a tear develops in the outer disc wall (annulus fibrosus) and inner disc material (nucleus pulposus) protrudes into the spinal column. The rupture may cause pain, numbness, tingling and weakness if the disc material pushes on the nerves in the spine.
  • Collapsed disc. Over time, a disc may degenerate to the point that it loses a significant amount of height. The diminishing height reduces the cushion between the vertebrae, risking bone-on-bone contact. As the vertebrae move closer together, they can pinch a nerve traveling through the narrow space between them, leading to pain, numbness and muscle weakness in that area of the body.
  • Bulging disc. This condition develops when the disc wall weakens and the resulting pressure placed on the disc causes it to bulge out into the spine. This is not necessarily symptomatic but can be painful or even cause disability if the bulging disc compresses a nerve.

While a slipped disc can be a common term to use, it is avoided as a diagnosis because it can cause confusion. It is possible to think this means that the disc has slipped completely out of its place in the spinal column when it is only referring to the edge of the disc wall slipping out between vertebrae. Be sure to consult with a physician for a medically accurate diagnosis of your condition. By understanding exactly what is happening in your spine, you can determine how to best treat your condition.

Slipped disc treatment

There are many treatment options available to address the symptoms stemming from a disc disorder. The first step in nearly every case is for you and your physician to create a program of nonsurgical conservative treatments, including over-the-counter medication, physical therapy, range of motion exercises, chiropractic treatment, acupuncture, steroid injections and heat massages.

If the recommended course of treatment fails to deliver pain relief, contact Laser Spine Institute for help. Our minimally invasive spine surgery is a safer and effective approach compared to traditional open back procedures.^ Through a less than a 1-inch incision, our dedicated team is able to remove the portion of the disc that slipped out of position and is placing pressure on your nerves. Advanced disc degeneration causing instability can also be treated with our minimally invasive stabilization surgeries.

Ask for your no-cost MRI review* today to see if you are a potential candidate for our outpatient procedures.