The term, “slipped disc” is commonly used for a spinal condition which can also be referred to as a ruptured disc, herniated disc or a prolapsed disc. It does not literally mean the slipping or dislodging of a disc, but instead refers to a spinal condition where a disc is protruding abnormally and made contact with nerve tissue. Usually a slipped or herniated disc is located in the region of the lower back, but any disc along the spinal column could potentially rupture. This also includes the discs that are in the neck region.
The spine is made up of a stack of vertebrae and discs. Vertebrae are individual and separate bones while discs are more like a rubbery cushion. The structure of a spinal disc is comparable to a jelly donut in that the interior is gooey and soft and the exterior is tougher and provides protection for the gel. When a disc slips, or ruptures the exterior cracks and allows the jelly like center to escape from the encasing. This can have an adverse affect on the surrounding nerves and cause pain, irritation or numbness. In some instances legs or arms can feel weak as well. And yet there are some individuals who have a slipped disc and never have a single symptom.
Disc degeneration is the term for age related wear and tear which causes disc herniation. As the body continues to age, spinal discs will become less flexible because they lose some of their water content. When there is less fluid, a disc is more prone to tearing or rupturing under what is considered “normal” circumstances. A herniated disc is rarely caused by a trauma or injury. Most of the time, the individual has no idea when the herniated disc actually occurred but many times is it is just the result of improper lifting which causes undue strain on the spinal column.
Many individuals never have a single symptom that alerts them to a slipped or herniated disc. A physician may discover a slipped disc when they take a spinal image for an entirely unrelated reason. But there are some individuals who experience excruciating pain which is caused by a herniated disc. A lot of times, whether or not a person has pain or any other symptoms associated with the slipped disc will depend on the actual location of the ruptured disc and what types of tissue it comes into contact with. Most herniated discs are situated in the lower back even though they can occur in the neck area.
The symptoms most commonly associated with a herniated disc are numbness, weakness or pain. When the slipped disc is located in the lower portions of the spine, it can cause intense pain in the back, buttocks or legs. However, pain is not limited to these regions as it can also reach down below the knee and even to the foot. When a herniated disc occurs in the cervical area the pain typically affects the shoulder and arm as well. Some individuals do not experience pain, but may have tingling or numbness in the region near the slipped disc. They may also experience related muscle weakness which may be exhibited by stumbling or the inability to hold on to items with their hands.