Definition of slipped disc
Slipped disc occurs when the soft cushion of tissue between the vertebrae protrudes out, adding pressure to the spinal nerves. The intervertebral disc loses shape and consistency when its soft inner material (nucleus pulposus) leaks out of the external fibrosus.
Being shock absorbers of the spine and playing a prominent role in transferring loads evenly, damage in intervertebral discs affect the entire motion segment which comprises the adjacent vertebrae, connective tissue, blood vessels and neighbouring nerves.
Slipped discs may occur due to either natural degeneration or due to trauma. The function of intervertebral discs is to absorb shock while a person walks, twists and bends. Overfunctioning of the discs result in wear and tear.
In a few other cases, injury occurs due to sudden jerks following instances such as car accidents or lifting weight incorrectly, which cause pressure on the discs resulting in herniation. Once such herniation occurs, even a simple sneeze could aggravate the damage.
Excessive body weight, physically demanding jobs that involve frequent driving, lifting, pulling and pushing heavy objects, genetics, smoking habits and sedentary lifestyle make one susceptible to develop slipped discs.
Contained and uncontained discs
Slipped discs may be contained or uncontained. When the jelly center remains within the disc wall it is contained and is termed as uncontained when the jelly center is connected to the nucleus pulposus but breaks through the annulus wall. When it loses touch with the nucleus, the condition is termed as sequestered.
Types of pain occurring due to slipped disc
Slipped discs cause sharp and shooting pain in buttocks, thighs, calf or patients may suffer from lower back pain, neck pain, pain while bending or straightening the back. Slipped discs may occur in the lumbar, cervical and thoracic region and experience pain according to its location.
Sometimes slipped discs occur without symptoms. Sometimes patients might experience numbness or weakness.
Diagnosis of slipped disc
Slipped discs are diagnosed through imaging tests including X rays, CT scan, MRI and Myelogram. Physical exams which inspect the back for its tenderness, also help to confirm slipped discs.
Neurological examination which inspect reflexes, muscle strength, ability to walk and feel touches and vibrations, also detect herniations.
Treatment of slipped disc
Non prescription pain medications, neuropathic drugs, muscle relaxants, opioids, cortisone injections are used to subside pain. Physical therapy and exercises focusing on certain positions alleviate pain. When these conservative treatments fail or when the damage is more intense, surgery is conducted. While mostly the protruding portion is removed, in rare cases, the entire disc is removed and vertebrae are fused with bone graft.
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