Usually caused by either injury or wear and tear, disc symptoms can vary significantly.
Common Signs & Symptoms
There are two main types of disc pain - disc herniation/prolapse (sometimes known as 'slipped disc') and degenerative disc
- Aching, burning, shooting or stabbing pains in your back, buttock, groin and/or thigh, which can spread into one or both of your legs
- Back pain and stiffness usually made worse by sitting, standing up from sitting, bending forward, lifting and twisting, coughing or sneezing
- Tingling or numbness can sometimes happen in your legs or feet
- Tightness in your back, buttocks or legs
- Your symptoms can come and go with different positions and are often worse if you stay still for prolonged periods of time
- Symptoms can begin both suddenly (with for example a lifting and twisting injury) or gradually
- Improves with moving or lying down (taking the pressure off your back)
Usually caused by either injury or wear and tear, disc symptoms can vary significantly. Discs are essentially the cushions between your vertebrae (back bones) and act as ‘shock absorbers’ which allows your back to move and be flexible. A disc has an outer shell (the annulus) which is a bit like a tyre on its side, and a toothpaste-like gel in the middle (the nucleus) which moves about depending on the position you’re in. For example, when you bend forward, sit or lift, the front of your disc is squashed which pushes the gel backwards, much like when you bite into a jam donut.
Damage or small tears to the outer part of the disc can allow the disc to bulge (prolapse). This can irritate the surrounding tissue which leads to muscle spasm, joint pain and possible nerve pinching (trapped nerve). Pain from a disc can cause buttock or leg pain (also known as sciatica or lumbago), tingling, numbness or changes in skin sensation. With aging or wear and tear, discs become dehydrated, flatten and can also crack, like an old dried out tyre. This ageing process can start in your 20's and by the age of 50 you are much less likely to suffer from a 'slipped disc'. Disc problems can also be affected by your posture, what you eat or your family history.
There are many people with this condition do not suffer any symptoms.
Advice & Treatment
Treatment is aimed at reducing pain, and improving core muscle control and mobility of your middle spine using exercise and stretches. Mobility is important to maintain – by keeping your middle spine as mobile as possible it will help to reduce the stresses going through your low back and slow down further deterioration.
- Medications: Anti-inflammatory drugs may help to settle any flare ups – just speak to your pharmacist or doctor to find the best ones for you especially if you are taking other medication. If this is not settling your pain, your doctor may prescribe something stronger and follow your doctor’s instructions exactly when taking any medication.
- Exercise: The best kind of exercise is low-impact - exercise in water reduces the pressure on your disc during and Pilates is especially helpful to improve the muscles that support your spine. Stretches and yoga can also increase your general flexibility to reduce the stresses going through your low back.
- Developing good ergonomics and posture will help to reduce the stresses in your low back
- Weight loss: Being overweight puts more strain on your spine, so losing a few pounds can help to decrease your pain.
- Complementary and alternative treatments: Treatments such as acupuncture and massage have been shown to be effective in pain relief.
- Physical therapy: Manual treatments such as mobilisation and manipulation to your joints can help to restore further mobility. A physiotherapist will also address other problems such as muscle imbalance or changes in your biomechanics should you be suffering these conditions in addition to your disc.
- Surgery: is usually only considered if a heriated disc is pressing on your spinal nerves.