We each have 23 spinal discs separating the vertebrae in our backs and acting as shock absorbers. Occasionally, these can put pressure on spinal cord nerves, which can lead to pain in both the back and the area controlled by those nerves. When this occurs, it is known as a slipped, herniated, or prolapsed disc.
Any injury to our backs or necks is generally quite worrying for most people, so it is understandable that a slipped disc could be a cause for concern. But there is a lot of misinformation about slipped discs floating around, so let’s look at 5 of the biggest myths surrounding slipped discs.
Myth #1: Discs Slip
The first thing to clear up is that, despite the name, discs don’t actually “slip” out of place. These discs have a gel-like interior protected by a tough outer layer, known as the annulus fibrosis. When this outer layer splits and allows the gel to spill out, it can push against the nerves in the back, which is what we refer to as a slipped disc. There are four stages to this:
Degeneration: when the gel moves from the centre to the edges of the disc.
Protrusion: when the outer layer bulges, possibly pressing against nerves.
Extrusion: when some gel leaks out, but most stays in the disc.
Sequestration: when the majority of the gel spills out.
Myth #2: Slipped Discs Are Caused By Injury
Another one of the most prevalent myth surrounding slipped discs out there, the idea that they are caused by injuries isn’t ridiculous, but it is also not true. In reality, slipped discs are usually caused by a combination of factors, with genetic predisposition to the condition being one of the most common. Age, years of wear & tear, and lifestyle habits such as diet and smoking also make a person more susceptible to slipped discs.
The reason this myth is so common is that in many cases, the slipped disc only becomes obvious after an injury or sudden movement, but it is important to realise that it has most likely been weakening over time.
Myth #3: Slipped Discs Require Spinal Surgery
The idea of needing to go in for spinal surgery is terrifying for most people, so it should come as a relief that surgery is usually only used as a last resort. In most cases, time is enough to heal the problem, although non-surgical methods can be used to speed up the process. These can include over-the-counter or prescription painkillers and anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, cortisone injections, physical therapy, or hot/cold packs.
Myth #4: Surgery Is A Big Deal
Even if surgery is required to treat a slipped disc, it is probably nothing like you are imagining. Rather than the open spine surgery where you lie face down on an operating table with an incision running the length of your spine, most slipped disc surgerys are a minimally invasive procedure known as a discectomy. This is a form of keyhole surgery that removes the herniated gel to release the pressure on the nerves, and in most cases, it does not require an overnight hospital stay.
Myth #5: Slipped Discs Are Excruciating
While slipped discs can be quite painful, this is not always the case. Exactly where and how pain will manifest will depend on which nerves are being pressed against. The neck, limbs, hips, and shoulders are some of the most commonly affected areas, although most of the pain is usually felt in the lower back. It is not unusual for a patient to experience muscle weakness, numbness, or a tingling sensation rather than pain in any of these areas. However, it is also perfectly possible for a person to have a slipped disc and feel no pain or show any symptoms at all.
As you can see, slipped discs are probably not as frightening as you had imagined. For most people, a slipped disc will cause some pain and discomfort, but won’t have any long-term health or lifestyle ramifications. Of course, if you suspect you may be suffering from a slipped disc, you should still seek medical attention and begin to resolve the issue as soon as possible.