Know The Symptoms Of A Slip Disc And Sciatica!

By Medical Expert Team

Jul 03 , 2017 | 4 min read


The spine is the singularly most important support structure of the body. It helps us stay upright, walk, run, and move. Trauma, attrition, and several often conditions that affect the spine could cause back pain and movement disorders. To fully understand the slipped disc and sciatica symptoms, we first need to look at the spine's structure.

The different parts that make up the spine are

  1. Vertebrae - 33 stacked bones or vertebrae make up the spinal canal.

  2. Facet Joints - The spine's facet joints have a connective tissue called cartilage that helps the vertebrae move.

  3. Intervertebral discs - The flat, round, jelly-like discs located between the vertebrae work as shock absorbers.

  4. Spinal cord and nerves - The innermost column of nerves carry nerve signals from the brain to the muscles and back.

  5. Soft tissue - the ligaments and tendons hold the spine in position and help in movement.

The lumbar spine comprises the five vertebrae in the lower back. These lumbar vertebrae (from L1 to L5) are the largest bones of the entire spine, and the intervertebral discs between them are referred to as lumbar discs.

What is Lumbar Herniated Disc?

  1. The intervertebral discs are composed of two concentric layers - the inner gel-like Nucleus Pulposus and outer fibrous Annulus fibrosus.

  2. With age, the nucleus loses fluids. This leads to a loss of volume and resilience of the entire disc structure and leaves it vulnerable to depression and trauma. This condition is referred to as Disc Degeneration.

  3. A degenerated disc is less flexible and more prone to tearing even with a minor tension or movement. The inner nucleus pulposus protrudes through the outer fibrous layer, producing a bulge in the intervertebral disc. This now causes a condition called a Herniated Disc or a Prolapsed Disc.

  4. Sometimes, obesity, bad posture, improper weightlifting, or trauma may cause the intervertebral discs to shift and the pulpous nucleus to bulge against the annulus. This condition is called Extruded Disc.

  5. A herniated disc is a disc that has moved from its position. This could cause it to compress the spinal cord and the nerves causing several problems such as lower back pain, tingling of the legs, and lack of flexibility or movement. This pain and associated discomfort are referred to as sciatica.

Slip Disc And Sciatica Symptoms

When the lumbar disc bulge is minor, and there is no significant compression of nerve roots, the patient may not experience any symptoms. The herniation of the disc may be an incidental finding.

In more severe cases, though, slip disc and sciatica symptoms may include one or more of the following

  1. Lower back pain

  2. Neck pain

  3. Tingling or numbness of the lower extremities (legs)

  4. Strain or difficulty in movement, sitting, standing up, walking etc

  5. Difficulty in bending or stretching

  6. Sudden sharp pain in the lower back or legs in certain positions

  7. Pain in the buttocks, hips

  8. Radiating pain from back to legs

The severity of the symptoms can depend on the extent of herniation of the disc, the location, and the nerves compressed by the disc.

In extreme cases, a herniated disc can cause paralysis. Therefore, if you experience any of the abovementioned symptoms, you must consult an expert doctor at Max Hospital.

Diagnosing the Cause of Sciatica

When your doctor suspects you may have a herniated disc and sciatica, your doctor will give you a thorough physical exam to check for muscle strength, range of motion, and location of the pain. Following the physical exam, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following tests –

  1. X-Ray – An X-Ray will help diagnose and rule out other injuries and conditions that could cause back pain.

  2. Computed tomography (CT) scan – Your doctor will locate any dislocated bones with the help of a CT scan.

  3. Myelogram – The doctor may inject a dye into your spine and perform a CT guided imaging test to reveal any spinal stenosis or narrowing of the spinal canal. This will pinpoint the location of the prolapsed disc.

  4. Electromyogram (EMG) – The EMG test helps determine the nerve function in various parts of the spine. This helps diagnose the parts of the spine that the herniated disc affects.

  5. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI can clearly show the location and extent of the herniated disc.

Once your doctor determines the location and extent of the herniated disc, he/she will be able to formulate a proper treatment plan for your sciatica.

What Are The Treatment Options For A Herniated Or Prolapsed Lumbar Disc?

If you are experiencing mild to moderate slip disc and sciatica symptoms, your doctor at Max Hospital may recommend non-surgical treatment options. These include -

  1. Medication - Muscle relaxants help relieve pain and ease muscle spasms that may accompany prolapsed disc conditions. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) also ease the pain.

  2. Heat therapy - Heat application through heating pads or hot compressions helps relieve sciatica pain.

  3. Physical therapy - Physical therapy can help patients get back to regular activities such as walking and exercising without worsening the symptoms or experiencing pain.

Most cases of a minor herniated disc are resolved within 6 to 8 weeks with medication, exercise, and medical support.

Your doctor may recommend a lumbar microdiscectomy for the surgical treatment of a herniated disc in the following cases

  1. If non-surgical treatment options do not relieve pain or improve movement

  2. If the herniation is severe

  3. If there is a loss of bladder control

  4. If the patient faces extreme difficulty in standing, walking, or moving

With treatment, diet and lifestyle changes, most patients find relief from slip disc and sciatica symptoms. 

Related Videos

Written and Verified by:

Medical Expert Team