What is slipped disc disease and what are its symptoms?
Slipped disc disease is a disease of the intervertebral discs with the main and most common location being the lumbar region of the spine. However, there may be a problem with the intervertebral disc and in the area of the cervical spine.
More specifically, slipped disc disease is the degeneration of the intervertebral disc, which becomes dehydrated, loses its composition, decreases in height and often shows disc material into the spinal canal, pressing to some extent the elements of the spinal cord.
The symptoms that will occur if pressure is applied from the intervertebral disc to the elements of the spinal cord start from simple pain and if the pressure remains, numbness, pain or even paralysis of the corresponding nerves that are pressed can be added.
If it is a projection of the disc in the lumbar region, the symptoms will appear in the lower extremities, right or left depending on whether the right or left side is pressed. The patient usually visits a doctor to deal with the discomfort of local pain in the waist or problems that are reflected along the limb.
What ages does slipped disc disease affect? Can it happen to any of us?
Slipped disc disease can occur at any age, but more often in middle age.
Additional factors, in addition to degeneration, that contribute to the appearance of the problem are the following:
- Overweight people. People who are overweight can get slipped disc disease more easily.
- Weight lifting with abrupt movement and without proper positioning of our body or intense sports such as falls from a height.
- Various injuries of the spine.
What are the ways to deal with it?
Initially, we advise the patient to stop any physical or stressful activity and stay in bed for a while. Clinostatism is the only way to help the intervertebral disc relieve the pressure, which is caused on the nerves and spinal cord and thus alleviate the symptoms.
Staying in bed should be continuous 24 hours a day and last for a few days (two – three days). At the same time we provide medication (analgesics and muscle relaxants), which come to help with the symptoms and not the cause of the problems.
If the treatment does not work or there are continuous relapses then it is necessary to check with magnetic resonance imaging, in order to show the size and level of projection of the intervertebral disc and depending on the clinical picture and the findings, there may be a recommendation for surgery.
During the surgery, the disc that protrudes into the spinal canal is removed and thus the pressure stops, which creates the discomfort and symptoms that torment the patient. In case the relapses are very frequent or there are neurological symptoms, such as paralysis, then the solution is necessarily surgery.
If the pressure caused by the disc is not removed, then the neurological symptoms may be permanent and this creates a disability for the patient.
What are the doctor’s recommendations if we have frequent episodes of low back pain or sciatica?
- We recommend a good muscular system that protects the spine, so exercises for the abdominal and back muscles.
- Weight loss, which permanently burdens the spine area and diverts the disc to project more intensely.
- Be very careful on the way we lift a weight, because it does not only matter how big the weight is, but also how we will lift it.
- The application of a belt in the middle, during the period when the symptoms are intense, helps to limit the excessive movements but also to remind the patient to be protected and not to make wrong movements.
Medication does not cure slipped disc disease, it only helps with the symptoms. During the period of discomfort the patient can be relieved with analgesics, muscle relaxants or anti-inflammatory drugs for some time. If there is no satisfactory improvement, the patient should discuss the need for surgery with his doctor.
Advises Nikolaos A. Papaioannou, Orthopedic Surgeon, An. Professor of the Medical School of the University of Athens, former Director of the Musculoskeletal Research Laboratory, Director of the Orthopedic Clinic of the “Metropolitan” Hospital