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Slipped Disc (Herniated Disc)

What Is Slipped Disc (Herniated Disc)?

The disks are protective shock-absorbing pads between the bones of the spine (vertebrae). The disks of the spine are also referred to as intervertebral disks. Although they do not actually "slip," a disk may bulge, split, or rupture. This can cause the disk cartilage and nearby tissue to fail (herniate), allowing the inner gel portion of the disk to escape into the surrounding tissue. This protruding, jelly-like substance can place pressure on the spinal cord or on an adjacent nerve to cause symptoms of pain, numbness, or weakness either around the damaged disk or anywhere along the area supplied by that nerve.

Many people experience no symptoms from a herniated disk, and the majority of people who have herniated disks do not need surgery.

The layman's term "slipped disk" is, therefore, a misnomer and actually refers to a condition whereby portions of an abnormal, injured, or degenerated disk have protruded against adjacent nerve tissues. This condition is also known as a herniated disk, ruptured disk, or prolapsed disk. The most frequently affected area is in the low back, but any disk can rupture, including those in the neck.

Cross-section (side view picture) of herniated disk between L4 and L5 (the forth and fifth lumbar vertebrae)

Picture of herniated disk between L4 and L5

Cross-section (vertical) of lumbar disc herniation into spinal canal

Cross-section picture of herniated disk between L4 and L5

What Are Causes and Risk Factors of a Slipped Disc?

Risk factors that lead to a slipped disk include aging with associated degeneration and loss of elasticity of the disks and supporting structures; injury from improper lifting, especially if accompanied by twisting or turning; and excessive strain forces associated with physical activities. Sudden forceful acute trauma is an uncommon cause of a slipped disk.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/10/2016

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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Slipped Disc (Herniated Disc):

Slipped Disc - Treatment

What treatment did you receive for your slipped disk?

Slipped Disk - Symptoms

What symptoms did you experience with your slipped disc?

Symptoms of a Slipped Disk

If the herniated disc isn't pressing on a nerve, you may have an ache in the low back or no symptoms at all.

When the disc does press on a nerve, symptoms may include:

  • Pain that travels through the buttock and down a leg to the ankle or foot because of pressure on the sciatic nerveClick here to see an illustration.. Low back pain may accompany the leg pain.
  • Tingling ("pins-and-needles" sensation) or numbness in one leg that can begin in the buttock or behind the knee and extend to the thigh, ankle, or foot.
  • Weakness in certain muscles in one or both legs.
  • Pain in the front of the thigh.
  • Severe deep muscle pain and muscle spasms

SOURCE: Healthwise


Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Lumbrosacral Disc Injuries »

Injuries to the intervertebral discs of the lumbosacral spine are invoked as a causative factor in one of the most common health problems in the United States — low back pain (LBP).

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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