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Guide to a slipped disc by the experts at Laser Spine Institute St. Louis

You’ve probably heard the term slipped disc in reference to some sort of neck or back pain. Maybe you have heard it used interchangeably with herniated disc or bulging disc, but what does that mean? A herniated disc and a bulging disc are two different conditions, so how can the term slipped disc be used to describe both of them?

A slipped disc is a casual term used to reference a damaged disc in the spine, often one that has moved (or slipped) out of alignment and is causing nerve compression. There are varying degrees of a slipped disc, ranging from a bulging disc to a herniated or ruptured disc. If you’ve been diagnosed with this condition, it’s important to talk to your doctor about the level of disc damage you have and what your treatments options are. You should also take some time to review some of the facts about what causes this condition and how your condition will be diagnosed so you know what to expect during your appointment.

What causes a slipped disc?

A slipped disc often develops slowly as the spine wears down with age — this is called a degenerative condition. The discs in the spine are meant to cushion and support the surrounding vertebrae. However, as repetitive motion and weight gain increases the pressure on the spine, the once-cushioning discs may begin to deteriorate. Sometimes this deterioration comes in the form of a stretched disc, or a disc that has lost the elasticity in its tough outer layer. When this happens, the disc can bulge or “slip” out of alignment and compress a nearby nerve root.

In some cases, the damaged disc may weaken to the point of tearing, allowing the nucleus of the disc to spread into the spinal canal. Again, this could cause a pinched nerve, which could lead to painful and sometime debilitating symptoms.

Symptoms of a slipped disc

Symptoms of a slipped disc will occur if the damaged disc presses against a nearby nerve root in the spinal canal or against the spinal cord itself. While symptoms are different for each person, the most common symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Muscle weakness
  • Limited mobility
  • Difficulty walking or standing

This pain can develop in the spine, often in the neck or lower back, and can travel the length of the pinched nerve into other areas of the body, such as the arm or leg. If you are experiencing these symptoms, you should stop by your doctor’s office to determine what is causing your pain.

Diagnosing a slipped disc

To diagnose a slipped disc, your doctor will begin by asking you about your symptoms and your medical history. This will help your doctor narrow down the possible causes of your pain. Once you and your doctor discuss your symptoms, he or she will perform a physical evaluation to find the exact location of your pain and to determine if any radiculopathy (traveling pain) is present. In some cases, your physician will order an MRI or CT scan to have an accurate view of what is compressing the nerve root in your spine.

Treatment for a slipped disc

If your doctor determines that a slipped disc is the cause of your pain, you can begin to review the treatment options available to you. Most physicians will begin by prescribing conservative treatment options, such as:

  • Pain medication
  • Physical therapy
  • Stretching
  • Yoga
  • Corticosteroid injections

Many patients will respond to conservative treatments within a few weeks or months, however some patients will be recommended surgery if the pain continues after this time.

Surgery for a slipped disc

If you are recommended for slipped disc surgery, you should research the benefits of choosing minimally invasive spine surgery at Laser Spine Institute St. Louis. Our procedures offer patients a shorter recovery time^ and lower risk of complications such as infection compared to open spine surgery. This is due to our minimally invasive approach to spine surgery and the outpatient setting of our surgery center.

To learn more about the benefits of minimally invasive spine surgery for a slipped disc, contact Laser Spine Institute for a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our minimally invasive procedures.