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Slipped Disc (Herniated Disc)

What Is Slipped Disc (Herniated Disc)?

The discs are protective shock-absorbing pads between the bones of the spine (vertebrae). The discs of the spine are also referred to as intervertebral discs. Although they do not actually "slip," a disc may bulge, split, or rupture. This can cause the disc cartilage and nearby tissue to fail (herniate), allowing the inner gel portion of the disc 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 disc or anywhere along the area supplied by that nerve.

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

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

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

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

Last Reviewed 9/11/2017

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Slipped Disc - Treatment

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Herniated discs are a common cause of back pain.

Causes of Back Pain

Nerve root syndromes are those that produce symptoms of nerve impingement (a nerve is directly irritated), often due to a herniation (or bulging) of the disc between the lower back bones. Sciatica is an example of nerve root impingement. Impingement pain tends to be sharp, affecting a specific area, and associated with numbness in the area of the leg that the affected nerve supplies.

  • Herniated discs develop as the spinal discs degenerate or grow thinner. The jellylike central portion of the disc bulges out of the central cavity and pushes against a nerve root. Intervertebral discs begin to degenerate by the third decade of life. Herniated discs are found in one-third of adults older than 20 years of age. Only 3% of these, however, produce symptoms of nerve impingement.

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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