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I Have a “Slipped Disc”. What is a Disc Herniation?

by | Mar 14, 2021 | Back Pain Buffalo, Back Physical Therapy, Lower Back Pain, Neck & Back Injuries, Sciatica Physical Therapy | 0 comments

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MRI scan of lumbar spines of a patient with kyphosis and back pain showing spondylodiscitis at L1, L2 levels, bulging of L3, L4 disc and spinal cannal stenosis. Diagnosis TB spines.

Slipped Disc. What You Must Know

A herniated disc, also known as the slipped disc is a common source of neck pain and back pain. The ailment most frequently affects your lower back and neck with rare occurrence in the mid back. Even though the condition can be painful, most patients feel better after some few months of physical therapy and other nonsurgical treatments.  In rare cases, more invasive options such as injections and surgery may be necessary.

Disc anatomy

Discs function as shock absorbers, cushioning the spinal column and protecting the spine from unwanted strains. They are located between vertebrae and made of the annulus (the rigid outer layer) and the nucleus (the soft jelly-like material). Despite the strength of the outer annular layers, a weakness may occur in the annulus allowing the nucleus of the disc to bulge or leak into the spinal column’s canal. The leakage results in excess pressure on the local nerves, causing intense back pain, neck pain, sciatica, numbness, tingling or other symptoms radiating into the extremities. This is called as herniation, ruptured disc, or slipped disc.

Herniated disc symptoms

Determination of symptoms greatly depends on the region of the spine with a problem. For instance, outward symptoms of herniation may not be visible in some patients while it may be visible in others. Nonetheless, the common symptoms of a ruptured disc include,

  • Lower back or neck pain that intensifies upon sitting, sneezing or coughing
  • Headaches such as migraines, cervicogenic and tension, while sitting in various positions
  • Sharp neck pains
  • Cramping, spasm, and muscle tightness
  • Radiating pain through the arms and legs (sciatica)
  • Numbness, tingling, and burning sensations in the arms and legs
  • Weakness often in isolated muscle groups of the arms and legs.
  • In rare cases loss of balance, bowel or bladder dysfunction, and genital numbness / tingling can also be noted.

What causes herniated disc

The above symptoms indicate the presence of a ruptured disc and the most likely causes are as follow

  • Trauma or accident – An abrupt injury can cause your body to exert excess pressure on the spine causing the discs to rupture
  • Degenerative disc disease – A common problem among in middle ages and above where the discs lose volume with time, meaning they can no longer absorb shocks properly allowing the twisting and flexing of the spine. Such discs are likely to herniate.
  • Irregular lifting or movements – Lifting objects inappropriately may exert external forces to your spine, which in turns causes disc rupture.
  • Poor posture – Sitting in relaxed, often flexed, spinal postures for extended periods of time can lead to the nucleus of the disc to bulge backward.


Treatment options for a disc herniation vary and depend on the severity of the herniation and location of the injury. Nonetheless, the common one that you may consider include;

Physical therapy

Physical therapy can eliminate your back pain resulting from a herniated disk. A physical therapist can teach you stretching exercises as well as exercises that strengthen your core (abdominal and back muscles). Joint mobilizations and neural stretching exercises are also often helpful.  Therapy exercises aim to alleviate pain, relieve pressure on the herniated disc, and decrease inflammation thereof. Other types of therapy like electrical stimulation and traction can also alleviate back pain, neck pain and improve your situation.

Physical therapy is beneficial as long as you commit to the exercise. In some cases, it can take some few months.

Surgical treatments

A handful of patients with a ruptured disk require spine surgery. In most cases, surgery becomes an option when other non-surgical treatments like physical therapy fail to relieve pain. They include;

  • Microdiscectomy – involves the removal of part of the ruptured disk or any other fragments exerting pressure on the spinal nerve. The method is common for a ruptured disc in the lower back to relieve back pain.
  • Discectomy and fusion – it relieves pressure on the smaller disks in the neck and lower back. It involves the removal of the entire slipped disc and filling the disc space with bone grafting. Metal plates and screw are often also used to assist in supporting the spine.

Change of lifestyle

A lifestyle change can help prevent herniated discs and set you towards the road to healing. Avoid intense exercises and get plenty of sleep when you experience acute back pain. You can also relieve pressure on your back by going through intentional physical therapy or yoga practice.

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