• London Spinal Partnership

A slipped disc is a term that we hear frequently but do you actually know what it means?

Mr Ranjeev Bhangoo explains exactly what it is and how it can be treated.

The spine is made up of vertebrae, which are small bones. These stack on top of each to make the spine, they are separated by intervertebral discs. Within the bones, a column or canal is formed, in this space the spinal cord runs, these bones protect the spinal cord. The spinal disc is made up of a tough fibrous outer layer (called annulus fibrosus) and a gelatinous inner core (called nucleus pulposus), the discs act as a shock absorber.

There is not one single phrase that is always used to describe a slipped disc, it can be termed a bulging, herniated, protruding or prolapsed disc. The term slipped disc can be misleading as the disc does not move itself rather some of inner material can leak out if crack develops in the outer layer.

So how does this happen? Most discs are well hydrated and the outer layer securely encases the inner layer that is filled with a gel like fluid. However, as you age and your discs start to degenerate they will become less hydrated, flatter and the outer layer starts to become weaker and more brittle. This means that the likelihood of getting a slipped disc is greater. The disc protrusion can press on nearby nerves and irritate them, this can cause symptoms such as pain in one leg - sciatica type symptoms.

How is it treated?

There are a number of different ways that a slipped disc can be treated and we start with the more conservative option to avoid surgical intervention unless completely necessary. The symptoms will usually settle down on their own within a few weeks. During this time it is important to remain active and continue with your daily activities.

If the symptoms do not settle down, it may be time to consider medication in the form of Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs or neuropathic agents. If the symptoms still do not settle down group exercise programmes combined with a psychological programme can be very effective.

If all non-surgical treatments that are offered are not effective or there is a motor deficit such as weakness or numbness, then surgery may be the next option:


  • Radiofrequency ablation

  • Discectomy

  • Microdiscectomy

  • Laminectomy

  • Foraminotomy

  • Endoscopic discectomy

  • PLDD (Percutaneous Laser Disc Decompression)

This article is intended to inform and give insight but not treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Always seek medical advice with any questions regarding a medical condition.


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