A slipped or herniated disc occurs when the small, spongy discs which cushion the bones of your spine become damaged and bulge or break open and out. While a slipped disc can occur anywhere along the spine, the most common area for ruptured discs is in the lower back. There are two major causes for a slipped disc. One is simple wear and tear from age, wherein the discs become dry and brittle, and are no longer as flexible as they used to be. Injury to the spine may also cause the disc to crack or break open, resulting in the gel within the disc to leak out.
Pain radiating in your lower back due to a slipped disc can occur for a couple of reasons. If the bulging disc presses against any nerve roots, it can cause numbness, pain, and weakness along the area in which the nerve travels. Pain and numbness down the leg and buttocks is called sciatica, which is the most common symptom of a slipped disc in the lower back. A doctor may be able to determine if you have a herniated disc simply by examining you, but an MRI or CT scan may be needed to not only confirm the diagnosis, but to rule out any other serious problems.
Luckily, pain symptoms from a slipped disc usually only occur for a few weeks or months. You only should rest if you feel unbearable pain that prevents you from doing anything else. Staying active is important, as remaining bedridden for several days can weaken your muscles, which will only worsen the problem. Light exercise, such as walking, can help. Your doctor or a physical therapist should be able to give you light exercises that you can do, which will help strengthen your back muscles and further your recovery. Both heating pads and ice packs can help the pain, depending on what you prefer. Use a heating pad every 2-3 hours on a low or medium setting for 15-20 minutes, or an ice pack every 2-3 hours for 10-15 minutes. Warm showers can bring some relief as well. A doctor may be able to prescribe medication to help with pain and swelling, though it will not cure or heal a herniated disc itself. A slipped disc will heal on its own, usually taking no longer than 6 months. Very rarely is surgery needed; however, if the pain continues for more than a few months, re-visit your doctor.
Once you have had a slipped disc, it’s important to take preventative measures to keep your back strong and healthy. Remember to always lift with your legs, not your back, and never bend at the waist; rather, bend your knees and squat. Keep good posture while walking or standing, keeping your shoulders back and your belly in, which will give your lower back great support. Getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can also help. Smoking can also increase the risk of a disc injury.
Written By: Updated: June 24,2011