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Bad Back – Slipped Disc

Bad Back – Slipped Disc

What Does it Mean?

Many of our patient’s have been told they’ve got a slipped disc but very few have been given an explanation to what this really means.  We thought we’d lay it out for you here to you help you understand and hopefully alleviate some worries.

What Are Discs?

The inter-vertebral disc is a cartilaginous disc that sits between each vertebral bone to act as a shock absorber.  A good description is like a fruit pastille; firm on the outside with a more gelatinous center.

What Does it Mean When They Slip?

The word slip is very misleading.  The disc will never slide out of place.  Sometimes these discs either as part of ageing or linked to an injury can protrude out of line slightly (bulge) or more severely (herniated/ prolapsed). They never actually ‘slip’ out of place.

Does This Always Cause Pain?

No. MRI’s on pain free people show that slipped discs are very common and do not always cause pain.

BUT it might.  This is more likely to be the case if part of the disc is pressing on a nerve.  This can cause local pain or can cause leg pain (Sciatica), pins and needles and / or numbness.

If I Have a Slipped Disc, Do I Need Surgery?

If pain or light pins and needles/numbness is your only symptom of a slipped disc then no.  These symptoms of a slipped disc can resolve spontaneously or with physiotherapy.

What if I Have Sciatica, Can it Still Heal?

Yes. Slipped discs often heal and the pressure is relieved on the nerve without any surgical intervention. As inflammation settles, the pressure and irritation around the disc will improve. Typically disc related injuries take around 8-12 months to settle down.

What Can I do to Help?

The best thing you can do is to stay active taking only relative rest from any higher impact activities that irritate it, this is to allow it time to heal the same way you would with a muscles strain or ankle sprain.  Your physiotherapist can give you advice and exercises that will help the pain to settle. Massage, manipulation and acupuncture can also give you some relief and expedite your recovery.

Is There Anytime I Should Seek Medical Attention?

There are some ‘red flags’ which do require urgent medical advice; so if you experience any of these then do not hang about and get to your doctor or rapid access service:

  • Pins and needles or numbness in BOTH legs
  • Numbness or pins and needles in your saddle (genital) area
  • If you have any change in your bladder or bowel control (incontinence or retention)
  • Sexual function that is new or unexplained

We hope you have found this useful in dispelling a few myths around ‘slipped discs’, the Physiotherapy Team at Bespoke Wellbeing are happy to support and treat you through any stage of your injury and recovery. Contact us on or 020 8901 6545