Slipped disc or disc prolapse

When an intervertebral disc presses against nerves in the spine or spinal cord, this is known as a slipped disc or disc prolapse. It causes pain and muscle tension. Major nerve damage resulting from the slipped disc can lead to a loss of feeling in the legs and signs of paralysis. Depending on the severity, disc prolapses are either treated conservatively or with surgery.

The intervertebral discs are located between the vertebrae of the spine and act like shock absorbers. They facilitate the spine’s movement and protect it from vibrations, bumps and jolts. As we age and if our backs are exposed to incorrect or excessive strain, the discs can become damaged. They gradually become less elastic and often a gelatinous tissue starts to leak from one or more of the discs. This leakage is referred to as a slipped disc or herniated disc. Disc problems most frequently occur in the lower back, however they can happen in any part of the spine.

Incorrectly lifting heavy objects, chronic excessive strain, increasing age and excessive body weight are all major risk factors for developing a disc prolapse. They usually affect people between the ages of 30 and 50 years. Men are twice as likely to suffer from a slipped disc as women.

Common symptoms include back pain that radiates down into the buttocks and the leg. Depending on the severity, the person may also experience sensory disorders such as a tingling sensation or numbness. If there are signs of paralysis or problems with the functioning of the bladder or bowels, then it is crucial to act quickly to prevent irreversible nerve damage.

To diagnose a disc prolapse, doctors evaluate the symptoms and perform neurological tests and spinal examinations. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) examinations make it possible to determine the exact location and extent of the slipped disc.

The treatment depends on the severity of the injury. The main focus is on conservative treatment, which involves pain killers, anti-inflammatory medication and targeted physiotherapy exercises. The majority of slipped discs can be effectively treated with these measures and a bit of patience. If the conservative therapy is unsuccessful, or in severe cases involving a risk of paralysis, then surgical treatment is advisable. Emergency surgery is required if the patient is suffering from Cauda equina syndrome, which impairs the functioning of the bladder and bowels. Find out more about the surgical treatment options in the [disc surgery] section.

The most important ways to prevent a herniated disc are regular strengthening of the stomach and back muscles, as well as avoiding improper strain on your back (e.g. not lifting heavy objects with a curved back).