What is a Slipped Disc?

Discs are protective pads between the bones of the spine. Although they do not actually "slip," a disc may split or rupture. This can cause the disc cartilage and nearby tissue to herniate, allowing the inner gel like portion of the disc to escape into the surrounding tissue. The leaking substance can place pressure on the spinal cord or on an adjacent nerve to cause symptoms of pain either around the damaged disc or anywhere along the area controlled by that nerve.

The layman's term "slipped disc" refers to a condition whereby portions of an abnormal, injured, or degenerated disc have protruded against adjacent nerve tissues. This condition is also called herniated disc. The most frequently affected area is in the low back, but any disc can rupture, including those in the neck.

Slipped Disc Symptoms

The substance that is escaping from the disc can place pressure on the spinal cord or a nearby nerve and cause symptoms of back pain around the slipped disc or anywhere along the area controlled by that nerve. The most frequently affected area is in the lumbar spine also known as the lower back, but any disc can rupture, including those in the neck also known as the cervical spine.

How is a Slipped Disc Diagnosed?

Slipped discs can occur naturally as intervertebral discs deteriorate with age, or they can be a result of an injury from improper lifting or poor body mechanics. The aging process is by far the most prominent factor in the development of a ruptured disc. It begins with a gradual reduction in water content within the gel-like nucleus of the disc. Concurrently, the disc’s outer wall begins to become brittle and weak. As the disc loses elasticity, it still must endure everyday pressures from vertebrae above and below, but the weakened disc is unable to hold its shape. This stress can reduce the height of the disc, or force the outer wall past its normal boundary. The stress also can create small fissures within the wall, which may develop into ruptures and permit the extrusion of nucleus material.

Slipped Disc Treatment Options

At the Spine Centers of America, we will diagnose your condition and our board certified spinal surgeons will give you the best medical advice available, whether that be surgical or non-surgical treatment plans. Your comfort level and ease is the most important and we will do everything to make sure that you understand your spinal condition and your treatment options.


Slipped disc treatment plans differ based on your age, physical condition, and the severity of your symptoms. Every case is unique, and your doctor may choose a conservative treatment plan or one that’s more aggressive. In most cases, slipped disc symptoms can be treated with conservative therapy and lifestyle modification.

Oftentimes, a doctor will first prescribe a short period of rest to reduce the amount of pressure placed on the nerves and thereby lessen the severity of the symptoms. Anti-inflammatory or pain medication can sometimes relieve slipped disc pain, and hot and cold therapy can help to relax the neck and back muscles. If necessary, steroid injections can help to reduce the swelling around the disc and relieve some of the pressure on the impinged or pinched nerve.

Activity modification can also help to improve symptoms of a slipped disc. You may be instructed by your doctor to refrain from certain physically demanding activities that aggravate your symptoms. Since excess body weight can place extra pressure on the back, overweight patients can benefit from diet modification and light exercise to strengthen the muscles used to support the spine. All diet and exercise plans, however, should be approved and continuously monitored by a doctor.


Surgery is often a last resort in slipped disc treatment, and is only considered for patients who experience chronic pain that hinders everyday activity. Traditional slipped disc surgery is performed to decompress the nerves surrounding the slipped disc; however, this surgery usually involves significant tissue damage, infection risk, and a lengthy recovery time. Because it involves the spine, it is strongly recommended that a board certified laser spine surgeon perform the procedure. Every physician at our comprehensive spine center is a board certified spinal surgeon.

If you need more information regarding this condition please feel free to contact us today.