Low Back Pain Caused by a Slipped Disc

In between the bones of the spine is a disc which reduces pressure and allows movement between the vertebrae.  The disc is made of two main parts: the tough outer ring, known as the annulus fibrosis and the inner softer gel like substance known as the nucleus pulposus.

Following prolonged wear and tear though daily stresses, or after injury, it is possible for the annulus fibrosis to become damaged and tear, and the nucleus pulposus to herniate and partially slip though the annulus fibrosis. This is what is known as a “disc herniation” or “slipped disc”.

The disc itself does not actually move anywhere, as is implied in the name “Slipped disc”. It remains firmly attached to the vertebrae above and below

The stages of a disc prolapse. 1. Damage to the annulus fibrosis. 2. Nucleus pulposus protrudes through the annulus fibrosis. 3. Large disc protrusion, depending on the location nerves may become compressed and significant pain may be felt.

The symptoms of such an injury usually include back pain, difficulty bending forwards, pain going to the buttock or down the back of the leg. The pain can be severe, but varies from person to person.

 

With a disc herniation, there is a risk of loss of bladder control though cauda equina syndrome which is a medical emergency. Patients with a loss of bladder function should go to hospital immediately. Find out more about cauda equina syndrome here:

Conservative treatment works well for about 90% of people, however staying in bed for a prolonged period in excess of a few days should be avoided if possible. Keeping the low back moving with gentle exercises and walking can help.

 

Most cases of low back pain caused by a herniated disc resolve gradually within about 8 weeks. Only a relatively small number of cases require surgery.

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