A slipped disc is when a piece of the soft centre of the disc (nucleus pulposus) bulges or protrudes out through a weakness in the outer part of the disc. This often causes sudden, severe lower back pain.
Signs and symptoms of a slipped disc include:
The most common age to develop a slipped disc is between 30 and 50 years. Factors that may increase the risk include:
Diagnosis is usually made clinically. In most cases, symptoms often settle within a few weeks. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be advised if symptoms persist or worsen.
Seek early medical attention if pain is not relieved with rest, over-the-counter (OTC) medication, warm/cold packs and activity modification, or if it becomes worse with progressive loss of function including limb weakness, numbness or tingling.
Occasionally, the nerves to the bladder and bowel may be damaged by pressure from a disc or bone spur. This can lead to bowel or bladder incontinence, as well as saddle anaesthesia (numbness over the anal region and inner thigh and calf ).
This is an emergency and immediate medical attention should be sought without delay in the event that this occurs.
Keep active as much as possible. This may not be possible at first if the pain is very bad, but patients should start gentle exercise as soon as they can as this will help with faster recovery.
Painkillers such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used, particularly when the pain is bad.
Most patients can be treated with a combination of
medication, activity modification and physical rehabilitation.
Occasionally, some may require
injection in the spine, or ablation of the nerves around the joints for symptom management. Over time, most patients with back pain can resume their occupational or recreational activities.