Prolapsed Disc/Herniated Disc/Slipped Disc

Your intervertebral discs are the fluid filled sacks, which lie in between each vertebrae and act as the shock absorbers for your spine. They are made up of two parts: Inner Nucleus Pulposes and outer Annulus Fibrosis.

A disc is said to be prolapsed (also, known as a herniated or slipped disc) when the inner Nucleus breaks through and protrudes through the outer ring of the disc called the Annulus.

This can happen in your Cervical Spine (neck), Thoracic Spine (upper back) or Lumbar Spine (lower back)

What is the cause?

A healthy disc is fluid filled. Breakdown of a disc begins when it becomes dehydrated or loses part of its fluid content. This can initiate a cascade of events, which leads to eventual breakdown and degeneration of the spinal complex. This is sometimes called Degenerative Disc Disease.

More specific causes include:

  • Pre-existing weakness in the Annulus (can be from previous disc injury/micro trauma where scar tissue is formed and thus weakens the wall of the disc)
  • Sudden increase in pressure through the disc which causes fibers of the Annulus to tear

Risk factors include:

  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Overweight
  • Poor core stability
  • Repetitive heavy manual labor (loaded bending)

Signs & Symptoms

The disc material that is protruding through the outside wall of the disc can put pressure on nerves and can cause one or more of the following:

  • Pain with sitting, forward bending, coughing, sneezing or lifting
  • Sciatica (read more)
  • Pins and needles
  • Numbness
  • Weakness of the muscles
  • Loss of bladder or bowel function (this is called Cauda Equina Syndrome and is a medical emergency)

What can we do about it?

Core stability training will form a large part of your rehabilitation and prevention of further episodes of back pain.

Movement is the key to rehydrating discs and encouraging repair. Your physiotherapist will provide you with an individualised exercise program to help enable the healing process.