Slipped Disk

Slipped Disk 2426
Photo by: Sebastian Kaulitzki

Slipped disk is a condition in which a disk in the spinal column becomes displaced from its normal position in the spine and presses on the spinal nerves, causing pain and sometimes muscle weakness.


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Skeletal disorders


What Is a Slipped Disk?

The spine is made up of bones called vertebrae (VUR-te-bray) that protect the delicate spinal cord. These vertebrae are separated from each other and cushioned by disks. The disks contain a soft inner layer and a tough outer layer. If the outer layer tears, the soft inner layer can push out and put pressure on the spinal nerves. This can cause severe pain as well as muscular weakness. Slipped disks are also called "herniated," "protruded," and "bulging."

Healthy disk between vertebrae, compared to slipped disk pressing on spinal nerve.
Healthy disk between vertebrae, compared to slipped disk pressing on spinal nerve.

Most slipped disks occur in the lower back. However, slipped disks can occur in any part of the spine, including the neck.

Whait Causes Slipped Disks?

In most cases, the condition develops gradually over a number of years. A person may be totally unaware that anything is wrong, until the disk begins to cause pain. There are a small number of cases of slipped disk that occur to people who have made a sudden difficult movement, such as lifting a heavy object or making a sudden awkward movement. Slipped disks can also be the result of normal wear and tear on the disks due to aging.

How Common Is Slipped Disk?.

Slipped disk is a fairly common disorder that happens mainly to people between the ages of 30 and 40. However, it can occur in younger people and even in children. After the age of 40, disks become more stable because extra tissue forms around them. Between the ages of 30 to 40, disks tend to lose fluid and become less resistant to pressures put on them. Slipped disk is more common in men than in women. People of either sex, however, who sit for long periods of time are more susceptible to the condition.

How Is Slipped Disk Diagnosed?

A person suffering from severe, sudden back pain should be evaluated by a physician to determine if he or she has a slipped disk, particularly if there is muscular weakness or pain and numbness in the legs or feet. The doctor administers nerve-reflex and muscle-strength tests after taking a personal history of the patient.

Correct versus incorrect posture: carrying loads, lifting, wearing backpack
Correct versus incorrect posture: carrying loads, lifting, wearing backpack

Among the tests used to locate and confirm a diagnosis, x-rays and other imaging tests may be performed. Another test, an electromyogram (e-LEK-tro-MY-o-gram) can measure the amount of electrical activity in the muscles and help determine how much muscle or nerve damage the patient has.

What Is the Treatment for Slipped Disk?

Total bed rest used to be prescribed for 2 weeks. Doctors now believe that this much bed rest does not help, and patients may be told to stay in bed 2 to 3 days. Medications are given to help relax muscle spasms and to relieve pain. After their initial symptoms have improved, patients are given certain exercises to strengthen the muscles of the back and abdomen and they are told to avoid twisting the spine. Lifting should be done by bending the knees first and keeping the spine upright. Most patients recover within 3 months.

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However, if these treatments are not successful, surgery may be necessary. Disk surgery involves removing a part of the disk that has slipped against a nerve. Exercise, weight management, and lifestyle changes are recommended following surgery to avoid a recurrence of the injury.

User Contributions:

Ronnis L. Wilson
How long does it take to recover from slipped disk surgery?

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