Most common in older adults, a slipped disk, also known as a herniated disc, is when the rubbery cushions (called discs) located between the vertebrae in your spine become displaced. Spinal disks have a jelly-like center bound by a tough, rubbery exterior (annulus). When that soft center or nucleus pushes its way out through a tear in the annulus, a slipped disk results.
Slipped or degenerative disks can happen anywhere along the spine (although the lower back is most common), and can irritate nearby nerves. It may result in pain, weakness or numbness in your arm or leg, depending on where the disk is located on the spine.
Most cases can be treated with therapy, self-care and non-invasive treatments, but in the most severe cases, surgery may be required to repair or remove the offending disc.
Symptoms of a Slipped Disk
If you have a slipped disk, you may experience:
- Pain and numbness on one side of the body
- Pain radiating to your arms or legs
- Pain that gets worse with certain movements or at night
- Pain that gets worse after sitting or standing
- Pain when walking short distances
- Muscle weakness
- Aching, tingling or burning sensations in the affected area
Slipped discs occur for a variety of reasons, such as age, turning or twisting to lift an object, lifting a heavy object and placing strain on the lower back, and being overweight (discs have to support the additional weight). A sedentary lifestyle and weak muscles can also contribute to a slipped disc, as can working in a physically-demanding job or falling.
But the most common reason is advancing age. That’s because our disks lose some of that important protective water content as we get older, making it easier for the disk to fall out of place. This is completely normal. Degenerative disk disease happens when the spinal disks wear down and can no longer act as a shock absorber. Thus, it makes it harder to move, bend and twist in a comfortable manner.
Most mild to moderate cases can be treated with:
- Physical therapy: Strengthening and stretching exercises led by a trained healthcare provider.
- Exercise: Low-impact activities such as swimming or walking will strengthen back muscles and relieve a bit of the pain.
- Hot and cold therapy: Alternate ice packs and heating pads every 15 minutes three to four times a day to alleviate inflammation and soreness.
- Stretching: Gentle yoga and stretching can relieve tension and improve posture.
- Medications: Taking steroids, NSAIDS and muscle relaxers can help with inflammation and pain.
- Steroid injections: Medication injections near the spinal nerves, joints or disks can reduce inflammation and pain.
- Radiofrequency neurotomy: This uses electric currents to burn sensory nerves and keep pain signals from getting to the brain.
Contact Summit Spine and Joint Centers
To book a consultation on treating your slipped disc non-invasively, such as with radio frequency treatments or steroid injections, contact us at 770-962-3642.