Symptoms, Causes & Treatment
Your spine is made up of small vertebrae (bones) separated by discs of cartilage. These discs help keep your spine flexible, which of course is essential for carrying out everyday activities.
When one of these is damaged, it’s known as a prolapsed disc. You might also hear it called a slipped disc or herniated disc.
This puts pressure on the nerves around the spine, or even the entire spinal cord. For some people, it can be very painful, while others can experience a loss of feeling in the back or legs.
If you think you have a prolapsed disc, you should discuss it with a doctor as soon as possible. Our GPs will listen to your symptoms and advise on the best method of recovery, while they can also recommend you take time off work if needed.
Symptoms of a Prolapsed Disc
A prolapsed disc can occur anywhere along the spine, from your neck to your lower back. Typically, you’ll experience pain, numbness or tingling in areas such as your neck, arms, shoulders, back, buttocks, legs and/or feet.
You might also experience muscle weakness, spasms and even partial paralysis that make it hard to carry out simple tasks.
A common condition associated with a prolapsed disc is sciatica. Your sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body, stretching from the pelvis through the entire length of both legs.
If a disc in your lower back is damaged, this can compress the sciatic nerve and cause all sorts of problems. Commonly, sciatica sufferers experience pain in their legs and buttocks.
Another very serious condition a prolapsed disc can cause is cauda equina syndrome. This might occur if your damaged disc affects the nerves at the base of the spine. In addition to the symptoms associated with sciatica, this can also lead to incontinence or a loss of feeling in the legs and groin. If you experience these symptoms, it’s vital you speak to a doctor right away to avoid long-term damage.
What Causes a Prolapsed Disc?
There are many factors known to increase your chances of suffering a prolapsed disc.
You probably won’t be surprised to hear that jobs involving heavy lifting or manual labour come with a risk of slipping a disc, particularly if you don’t follow safe lifting practices.
What you might not know is that people whose jobs involve a lot of sitting down are also at risk. If you can, try and get up and stretch your legs from time to time to reduce the pressure on your lower back.
Other possible factors include trauma (such as a fall or collision), weight problems, smoking and old age. Getting older, in particular, causes your discs to become more fragile, making them more susceptible to a prolapsed disc.
Treatment for a Prolapsed Disc
There are a number of possible treatments for a prolapsed disc. Your treatment will depend on the severity of your condition.
In the majority of cases, a slipped disc will heal on its own. Your treatment might simply consist of rest, with exercises such as swimming thrown in to keep you active. If it’s necessary for you to take time off work, our doctors can write you a fit note for your employer.
You can be prescribed medication, ranging from painkillers to anti-inflammatories. A doctor will be able to suggest the most appropriate medication for you.
It may also be necessary to undergo physical therapy to help your recovery. You might be referred to a chiropractor, physiotherapist or massage therapist who will work on managing your pain and getting you back to normal.
In about 10 per cent of prolapsed disc cases, surgery is a possibility.
Book a consultation today to find out the best next steps that will help you recover from your prolapsed disc.
Updated: January 5, 2021