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What is slipped Disc?
Spine is made up of a number of bones placed one above the other and the cushioning between these bones is provided by the discs. Weakening, bulging or protrusion of these discs is referred to as slipped disc. If a bulging disc irritates the spinal nerves then the resulting pain can radiate down into the legs and this is addressed as sciatica.
Symptoms of Slipped disc
Most patients complain of a sharp, burning, stretching, cramp like or electric shock-like pain in one or both legs. Back pain and stiffness are mostly, though not always present. Movement, coughing and sneezing may intensify the pain. Leg pain is often accompanied by a tingling sensation, numbness and/or leg weakness.
Slipped disc and sciatica are common problems in general population and here are some common myths about slipped disc.
Myth #1: Discs slip out of place
The name slipped disc is a misnomer as the disc does not slip out of place. The discs are made of a tough outer layer surrounding a jelly-like material in the centre. Slipped disc refers to a condition where the disc loses its shape and/or consistency and either the central jelly-like material of the disc leaks or bulges out.
Myth #2: Slipped discs are always caused by injury
Slipped discs result from several factors causing weakening of the disc and these include genetic factors, age related wear and tear, lifestyle factors including physical activity, body weight, smoking etc. The symptoms may manifest after a sudden movement/ injury but the predisposition is already present and sometimes even trivial activities can trigger the symptoms.
Myth #3: My x-ray is fine, so I cannot have a slipped disc
X-rays of the spine are not the preferred investigation for looking at discs; they are mostly used for evaluation of bones. MRI scans are preferred for evaluating the discs. A number of normal individuals, when scanned will show disc abnormalities on the MRI and hence the MRI findings need to be interpreted in relation to your history and examination findings.
Myth #4: Slipped discs always cause excruciating pain
Slipped discs can be quite painful, but this is not always true as it is possible for a person to have a slipped disc and have no pain or other symptoms. The pain from slip disc may be felt in the spine or the legs/arms or both.
Myth #5: Movement will make my disc problem worse
Prolonged rest can have a detrimental effect as it leads to deconditioning of muscles which in itself can become a source of pain. Whilst one may require rest during periods of extreme pain, continuing with simple activities (such as walking) is generally advised. It is sensible to listen to your body and avoid heavy activities while the body attempts to repair itself.
Myth #6: Slipped discs require surgery sooner or later
The thought of having surgery can be terrifying for most people and fortunately majority of slipped disc patients will not require surgery. This is required for severe or non-resolving cases. Non surgical interventions, such as medications, injections and physical therapy, can help in alleviating the condition. .
Myth #7: Slipped disc is a permanently disabling condition
A Slipped disc is not a lifetime problem and one is likely to overcome the condition after treatment. With patience, correct knowledge and timely treatment most individuals can return to normal activities.
How can Pain Specialists help?
Pain management specialists focus on non surgical solutions for sciatica and slipped disc using a combination of injections, medication and physiotherapy. Injections, including nerve root blocks and epidurals, are safe, effective, non-surgical interventions which can provide prolonged relief. These are performed under x-ray guidance, and do not require overnight hospital stay. The aim of these injections is to deliver medications close to the site of the actual problem ensuring that more drug reaches where it is required, thereby increasing the chances of successfully reducing the pain.