Can a disc slip?

Updated: Apr 21

It’s that time of the year again when the sun has finally come out and many of us venture out into the garden for the first time. This often brings out a variety of muscle and joint aches and pains and we discover muscles we didn’t know we had!

Perhaps we’ve been somewhat inactive over the winter and suddenly we spend the whole day out in the garden doing lots of digging, weeding and planting. So, it’s no wonder our bodies complain. After all you wouldn’t take up weight training and then start by lifting the heaviest weights at the gym and do it for hours on end!

Often people will say that they have ‘put their back out’ or that they have ‘slipped a disc’. But can a disc slip? It sounds terrible doesn’t it? As though the disc has somehow popped out and needs popping in again and until it does, we will be in pain and need to be very careful about how we move.

The short answer to the question is NO! Our discs are firmly anchored to the vertebra above and below them so they can’t ‘go’ anywhere. In fact, what happens is that stress on the disc can cause the gel in the centre to bulge outwards putting pressure on the outside layer and causing a 'bump' or 'bulge' in the disc, called a disc bulge. This can put pressure on the sciatic nerve which irritates and causes pain into the buttock or pain down the leg called sciatica. Some disc bulges are not big enough to put pressure on the nerves but can stress other soft tissues and joints in the back causing back pain or pain in the hip area.

This may be more likely to happen if we suddenly do lots of bending and stretching that we are not used to doing, like going out in the garden after spending the winter indoors.

The good news is that discs, like all our other tissues, can and do heal over time. Often there is nothing ‘special’ that needs to be done other than to keep gently moving and increase your activities over time. The key phrase here is to keep moving because your back is still strong. You may need to reduce the amount you do for a short time, just as you would if you sprained your ankle, but if you keep mobile things will heal more quickly.

Sometimes the pain persists and the problem is more stubborn. This does not mean that the disc hasn’t healed. Often your joints may have become stiff, muscles have become over or under active or a combination of all these, which is the source of the pain. This is where physiotherapy can be helpful in getting your back moving more normally again and building up the strength and capacity in the tissues to allow you return to normal activities.

So, if you’re planning on spending time in the garden this weekend consider doing a few stretches beforehand (start today!), take some breaks and if you do get some pain don’t panic! Your disc will still be in place, your back is still strong and will heal. If you are struggling to get back to doing what you enjoy make an appointment at Omnia and we can advise you on the best exercises for you and how to build yourself back up to full strength.



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