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What to do if you think you have slipped a disc


What is a herniated (slipped) disc?

The bones of your spinal canal are separated from each other by fluid filled discs.  These discs are made up of an inner and outer fibrous ring.  When a disc is damaged, the inner ring starts to protrude onto the outer ring, creating a bulge.  If damage is more severe, the outer ring can actually tear (herniate) and release the fluid contents of the disc into the spinal canal.  Both a bulge and a herniation cause inflammation and may put pressure onto the spinal cord leading to pain and dysfunction.

Why does this happen?

Typically, disc damage occurs accumulatively over time from bad behaviours such as poor lifting technique, poor posture or chronic overloading of the disc.  Trauma, such as a fall or motor vehicle accident, can also lead to disc damage.    Disc damage is most frequently seen in men and most frequently occurs between the ages of 35-45.


What are the symptoms of disc damage?

Patients will usually present with low back pain, this pain may refer into the back of the leg, calf or into the foot.  Often the leg pain is worse than the back pain.  Pain will be sharp and shooting and will be made worse when weight bearing (e.g. standing or sitting for prolonged periods), coughing or sneezing.


What should I do?

If you think you have damaged your disc, you need to receive an assessment from a medical professional.  Chiropractors are very good at managing disc problems and typically, the earlier you seek treatment, the quicker you will recover.  It is particularly important to seek urgent medical help if you notice changes to your normal bowel or bladder activity (lack of urination/bowel movement for 24-48 hours or being unable to control urination/bowel movement) as this may indicate spinal cord compression.


In the meantime:

• Avoid positions which make the pain worse such as forward bending or twisting.

• Use an ice bag to reduce inflammation; try to leave it on for 10-20 minutes at least 2-3 times daily.  Avoid using heat on the painful area as this can make the inflammation worse.

• If there are no medical contraindications, ibuprofen is a helpful painkiller and anti-inflammatory medication, but this should only be used for short periods of time.

• Bedrest should be limited to no more than a few days at the most to avoid muscle weakening and increased pain/vulnerability.

• Avoid prolonged sitting – try to stay mobile within your pain tolerance levels.


This advice is not a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment – please ensure you seek professional medical help in the event you have a problem.

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