Lower back pain is one of the common problems that strikes most people by the time they’re around their mid thirties. While the cause may be anything from an overextended workout to a sedentary lifestyle, it may also be just an indication of a more serious health problem that needs medical care. Lower back pain that persists for long and causes pain or numbness that extends to your arms or legs may be a sign of slipped disc. Here’s how to identify slipped disc symptoms, its causes and possible prevention.
Slipped Disc Definition– What is a slipped disc?
The human spinal column is made up of 26 bones called vertebrae- each separated from the other by discs. These discs are made up of a soft, gel-like inner portion that’s covered by a tough outer ring. The function of these discs is to protect your vertebrae from sudden shocks that may occur during jerking, lifting, playing a sport or walking etc. With age or due to an injury, the outer ring may sometimes weaken or rupture, causing the inner gelatinous portion to protrude out- this condition is called a slipped or herniated disc. While a slipped disc by itself is painful, it may cause nerve pain and numbness, if the gel-like inner portion protrudes just enough to touch a spinal nerve. In severe cases, a surgery may be required to repair or remove the affected disc.
Symptoms of slipped disc– Sometimes you mat experience no symptoms at all, and a chance spinal checkup may bring up a slipped disk. But often, a slipped disc experience will be difficult and painful, with the pain originating in your neck or lumbar (lower back) region. You should see the alarm bells ringing if you experience persistent pain that follows this pattern:
- If the pain is mostly on one side of the body
- If the pain radiates to the arms and legs
- If the pain becomes worse at night, or after sitting or standing
- If you experience an unexplained muscle weakness- an impaired ability to lift or hold items or you stumble.
- If the pain feels more like a burning or tingling sensation in the affected area.
The region where you experience pain will depend on where the herniated disc lies. If it’s in your lower back, your pain will focus around your buttocks, thighs and calf and may also extend to the foot. If it is near the neck, the pain will be around your shoulder and arms and may shoot up further when you cough or sneeze or turn/move in specific ways.
Slipped disc causes and Risk factors
The two biggest risk factors for slipped disk are probably being overweight and having a job that makes you vulnerable. Being overweight exerts excess stress on your lower back, while a job that involves heavy physical strain (activities like repetitive lifting, pulling, pushing, bending or twisting) also puts you at greater risk of rupturing your back. Besides, sometimes genetics also seem to play a role.
Causes of slipped disc may be listed as:
Age- People in the age band of 35 to 45 or higher are at a greater risk of developing slipped disc. This is because with age, the discs naturally tend to lose some of their water content that it makes it easy for them to slip out of place or get more prone to rupturing with even minor strain or twist.
Job– If your job involves heavy lifting, twisting, pulling etc. it could lead to slipped disc, especially if you’re not following the right posture when doing all this strenuous work. For example, while lifting heavy objects, you must always bend from your knees and never from your waist- so the pressure is on your thighs and legs not on your lower back.
Overweight– Not only does being overweight add to pressure on the lower back, it is often accompanied by lifestyle factors such as inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle. All this together lead to weak muscles and finally slipped disc.
Genetics– Some people inherit a predisposition to developing slipped disc.
Slipped Disc Prevention
You may be able to reduce your risk of developing a slipped disc by
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Using the right lifting techniques as mentioned above.
- Keeping yourself active by interspersing your work with periodical stretches if your job involves sitting in front of the monitor all day. Also, practice a routine exercise regimen to strengthen the muscles in your back, legs and abdomen.