We never really think about our spine. We don’t watch our posture, or go out of our way to provide proper support when we lift heavy objects. However, when our spine or our back is injured, we’ll feel the impact on every aspect of our lives. Things we take for granted, like sitting, standing, and walking, become extremely painful.
One of the most common spine injuries is the slipped disc, which can be caused by common habits and left undiagnosed for years—until the condition progresses to such an extent that the pain is unbearable. Here are some ways to prevent and spot the problem.
1. What is slipped disc?
Slipped disc (or spinal disc herniation) affects round, flat discs that cushion the bones of the spine. Within these discs are jelly-like substance that act as the body’s shock absorbers, preventing the bones from rubbing and hitting each other when you move.
Unfortunately this substance can dry out, bulge out and tear, irritating nearby nerves and cause pain in your leg and back. While ruptured or herniated discs can occur in any part of the spine, most cases occur in the lower back (lumbar spine) and in the neck (cervical spine).
2. What causes slipped discs?
Slipped discs can be caused by age (as the disc material degenerates), lifting heavy objects the wrong way, sudden twists, excessive weight (which put pressure on the spine). Some people are more prone to slipped discs because of genetics or the type of work they do (such as heavy manual jobs).
Slipped discs can also be exacerbated by repetitive activities that stress the lower back, such as sports, hobbies like gardening, or even lifting your baby or toddler from the crib or floor!
3. What are the symptoms of a slipped disc?
You may feel severe low back pain or pain that radiates from the buttocks, legs, and feet. This pain gets worse when you cough, laugh, or engage in strenuous activity. You may feel muscle spasms, and as the condition progresses, experience muscle weakness.
In herniated cervical discs, the pain is in the upper body. You can experience discomfort in the neck, shoulder blades, upper arm and forearm.
However, slipped discs can go undetected because the pain is minimal or sporadic. That’s because the location of the disc or the way the jelly-like substance bulges isn’t often pressed on.
4. What are the treatments for slipped disc?
Luckily many cases won’t require surgery, just bed rest, followed by a gradual increase in activity. You may be given medication to control pain and inflammation, or advised to do exercises to strengthen the muscles that support the back.
However, in severe cases where there is significant or progressive weakness of muscles, loss of bowel or bladder control, or loss of sensation and mobility, surgery is required.
5. How do I prevent slipped disc?
Exercise can help you strengthen the muscles that support the spine. However, you have to avoid any type of exercise that will put additional strain on the back. Some of the safer options are swimming, stationary bicycling, and brisk walking. Consult your doctor about what routine is best for you, and if you go to the gym, do inform your trainer about your back condition.
It’s also important to observe proper posture when sitting or standing (straight back, stomach in—as if a string were holding up your head). When you lift heavy objects, don’t bend over, but squat and then slowly stand up.
Slipped discs are also another good reason to quit smoking. Smoking increases your risk for artherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which can cause lower back pain and degenerative disc disorders.