Everyone has heard of, or knows someone, who has “slipped” a disc. As a result most people’s opinion of disc injuries is that it is a particularly painful experience that takes a long time to recover from or necessitates going under the surgeon’s knife.

Disc injuries are very common with 90% occurring in the low back and almost all of the remaining 10% in the neck. Mid-back disc injuries are rare. Some sufferers report severe leg or arm pain to none at all! Others report leg or arm numbness and or tingling or occasionally muscle weakness. A number of people experience both! The 30 year to 50 year old age group have the highest incidence of disc injuries. Often there is a history of preceding episodes of back or neck pain.

Basically the discs are rubbery pads between the bones of your spine. The discs have a tough outer membrane – the annulus fibrosus – and an elastic centre – the nucleus pulposus – which progresses from gel-like in children to hard rubber in adults. The disc cannot “slip”, rather repetitive load “stress” damages the tough outer membrane which allows the “rubber” centre to push against the outer membrane making it bulge. Occasionally the outer membrane can tear and the elastic centre can be partially forced out. This “bulge” or “herniation” can irritate or compress an adjacent nerve resulting in the leg or arm pain (https://spinesurgeons.ac.uk/Booklets).

If you suspect you may have a disc injury then make an appointment with your chiropractor. They can provisionally diagnose the nature of the injury with a comprehensive history and relevant clinical examination. An MRI is diagnostic for a disc injury but in most cases is unnecessary unless surgery is being considered. Many people have positive MRI changes (disc injuries) without any pain and research tells us that the degree of disc damage does not correlate with the pain experienced!

Most sufferers recover with conservative treatment: chiropractic, activity modification, pain and anti-inflammatory medication and rehabilitation. Only a small percentage of disc injuries end up having surgery and this is usually related to significant neurological changes.

Best advice to try to reduce the likelihood of suffering a disc injury is to maintain close to an ideal weight, to perform regular, moderate physical exercise and to maintain your flexibility as you get older.