What are Spinal Discs?
Intervertebral discs, as they are correctly called, are the soft, jelly-like cushions that sit between the bones (vertebrae) of the spine. These round, tyre-like structures allow your spine to move; absorb the shock created by walking, running or jumping; and provide general flexibility of your back.
What is a Disc Problem?
There are a number of terms that are used to describe disc problems, such as a slipped disc, prolapsed disc, ruptured or herniated disc, but all these terms relate to the disc wall bulging, and in some situations, pressing on a nerve, leading to referred pain, like sciatica.
Here is a closer look at specific disc problems:
Herniated or slipped disc: This occurs when the outer layer of the disc tears, allowing the inner jelly-like material to leak out and put pressure on nearby nerves, causing pain, numbness, or weakness in the arms or legs.
Bulging disc: This happens when the disc protrudes out of its normal position, but the outer layer is still intact. This can also put pressure on nearby nerves, causing pain or discomfort.
Degenerative disc disease: This refers to the natural wear and tear of the discs that occurs with age, causing them to lose their cushioning ability and become stiff and brittle.
Disc injuries often occur following heavy lifting or trauma, such as a sports injury or road traffic accident, but can also result from general wear and tear. Genetics may also play a role in disc problems, due to inherited traits, such as the shape and size of a person’s spinal canal or the strength of their spinal muscles.
A person’s posture can also cause disc problems, as hunching and slouching can actually speed along degenerative disc disease. There is also compelling new evidence that smoking can reduce blood flow to the spine and decrease the delivery of nutrients to the discs, which can lead to degeneration.
The most common place to get a disc injury is in the lower lumbar spine but it is also not uncommon for them to occur in the neck.
What does a Disc Problem feel like?
The most common symptom of a slipped disc is pain, which can be felt in the affected area of the back or neck. This may be sharp or dull and can range from mild to severe.
Pain caused by a slipped disc may also radiate to other parts of the body, such as the arms, legs, and buttocks, and is likely to make itself known when you move your spine, cough or sneeze.
Another common symptom of a slipped disc is numbness or tingling in the affected area. This can occur if the slipped disc is pressing on a nerve, causing it to become compressed or irritated. In some cases, the numbness or tingling may also be accompanied by weakness in the affected area; for example, bending down and straightening back up.
Many people will also be aware of the relationship between disc problems and a condition known as sciatica. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body, which starts in the lower back and runs down each leg. If this nerve becomes compressed or irritated – for example – through a disc problem in the lower back – it causes pain that extends down one or both legs, often starting in the buttocks and moving down to the feet. This condition is known as sciatica.
Finally, in severe cases, a slipped disc can also cause loss of bowel or bladder control. This is called Caudia Equina Syndrome (CES) and requires immediate medical attention. More information about CES can be found here.
Can We Help with Your Disc Problems?
Our treatment will greatly reduce the time required for disc injuries to heal and for you to get back to your normal daily activities. However, if disc injuries are left untreated, the healing process may take many months and, in some cases, worsen.
Get a 30-minute new patient assessment, diagnosis & treatment plan for just £30
Will Pain-Relieving Drugs Help My Disc Problems?
Inflammation can be greatly reduced using NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs), such as ibuprofen, aspirin and paracetamol. However, although they can reduce the inflammation caused by your disc problem, pain-relieving drugs do not address the underlying problem of disc problems. They can also, in some cases, cause stomach problems, such as acid reflux and constipation.
It is important to avoid using painkilling drugs before engaging in physical activity. This is because, without feedback from your body’s nervous system, it is easy to over-use and further aggravate your disc condition. Remember: pain is the body’s way of telling you something isn’t right. However, they are very useful in helping you get a good night’s sleep, which is a vitally important part of your recovery.
If you are already taking medication prescribed by a doctor, you should always ask the advice of a Doctor or Pharmacist before self-medicating, as some pain-killing drugs can affect the effectiveness of your medication, and can sometimes be dangerous.