Symptoms of A Slipped Disc

Back Surgery Information

Symptoms of A Slipped Disc

A slipped disc is actually what is medically termed as a herniated disc. It is also referred to as a prolapsed disc. The discs, which are the pads between the vertebrae in the spine, do not actually slip out of alignment. Rather, the gel-like center of the discs bulges out, perhaps due to injury or degeneration that causes the disk to rupture or split. Discs act as the spine’s shock absorbers. The slipped gel-like substance may put pressure on a nearby nerve or on the spinal column. This extra pressure is the major cause of the symptoms of a slipped disc.

The symptoms of a slipped disc will depend on a number of factors. One factor is the location of the herniated disc. The spine is divided into 3 main parts; the neck which is made up of the cervical vertebrae, the mid-back which is made up of the thoracic vertebrae and the lower back which is made up of the lumbar vertebrae. There are 2 other parts in the spinal column called the sacrum and the coccyx which is at the end of the spine. There are 7 cervical vertebrae, 12 thoracic vertebrae, 5 lumbar vertebrae (in rare cases there may be more lumbar vertebrae), 5 sacral vertebrae and 4 coccygeal. The vertebrae in the sacrum and coccyx parts are fused together.

Most disc herniations occur in the lower back as there is more disc material and the lumbar spine is subjected to more force. The symptoms of a slipped disc in this area will include sciatica, which is leg pain and numbness which is the most common symptom. The most commonly affected vertebrae are the 4 and the 5th lumbar vertebrae. There may also be numbness and pain felt on the top of the foot, the side or on the outside. Some individuals experience what is referred to as ‘foot drop’ which is weakness when trying to raise the big toe. There may also be severe low back pain.

Symptoms of a slipped disc in the cervical area will also depend on which level the herniation occurs. Cervical herniations occur commonly on level 4 and 5 and the symptoms will include weakness in the wrist and biceps, pain and numbness in the arm.

While one symptom of a herniated disc is a restriction of your ability to move, checking for this symptom is not safe if you actually have a herniated disc, so you should not attempt to test your spine’s range of motion without assistance from someone who knows what they are doing.

If you feel any of the symptoms of a herniated disc coming on, you should do some very gentle walking. This can help to increase the flow of blood and alleviate the symptoms. Although walking off your symptoms does not guarantee that you have a herniated disc, the consistent return of those symptoms and the ability to consistently alleviate them with light exercise is a good enough reason to talk to your doctor about it.

Knowing what you were doing when or immediately before your symptoms’ first onset can be very helpful to your doctor in determining the likelihood that you have a herniated disc. If possible, document your symptoms before you go in for an appointment. Use some kind of rating scale to show intensity in addition to documenting duration. Other important factors include what your diet consists of, how much sleep you get, and the amount and intensity of your exercise.

If you do have a herniated disc, and the symptoms affect your arms, it is likely that one of the discs in your neck is herniated. If you feel symptoms in your legs, it is more likely that a lumbar, or lower back, disc is herniated. Each type of herniated disc requires unique treatment, so determining the location of your injury based on your symptoms is important.