Herniated (‘slipped’) disc
What is a herniated disc?
To understand what a herniated disc is, we need to first understand the structure of the spine. The spine consists of bones called vertebrae that are stacked on top of each other. The spinal column provides support for the body, allowing you to stand correctly, whilst at the same time protecting the spinal cord from injury. To further aid this, in between each vertebra there are protective pads of cartilage (connective tissue) called discs; these discs have a tough, fibrous outer case that contains a softer gel-like substance. This gel-like centre allows them to be both flexible and act like shock absorbers of the spine. They are therefore able to support heavy loads while still allowing a great deal of movement.
A slipped disc – known as a prolapsed or herniated disc – occurs when one of the discs is damaged and results in the gel inside bulging outwards through the outer wall of the disc.
This bulging of the disc may result in it pressing on the nerves as they exit the spinal cord. This can lead to the nerve becoming irritated which can cause back pain and neck pain, pain in the leg or pain in the arm as well as symptoms such as numbness, tingling or even muscle weakness. The pain is often made worse by coughing, sneezing or sitting down for prolonged periods of time.
What can cause this to happen?
It is not always clear what causes this to happen. However, slipped discs are more common as we get older. This is a result of our discs losing their water content as we age and so causing them to become less flexible and therefore more likely to rupture.
However, other factors can put increased pressure and strain on your spine and therefore your discs.