What is a “Slipped Disc”?

A “slipped” disc is the common term for a prolapsed or herniated spinal disc. These discs are set in position between the vertebrae and do not “slip”. Instead, the disc’s outer, fibrous ring tears, thereby allowing the soft, inner portion to extrude through the tear and press against the spinal nerves. Inflammatory chemicals may also be released as a result of the tear and may cause significant, long-term pain.


Depending on the location of the “slipped” disc, the individual may experience numbness and tingling sensations in the extremities, sciatica and even erectile dysfunction, in addition to the localized pain.

Diagnosis can be performed using a number of methods (X-rays, computed tomography, discography), but a magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI) is usually the most effective, as it can provide highly detailed three-dimensional images of the affected area. These methods, however, are generally reserved for those cases where natural recovery has failed to improve the symptoms. Because chiropractic care falls under “natural recovery”, it is often not necessary to have an MRI before beginning chiropractic care.

A physical examination is commonly performed prior to imaging tests and can include the testing of reflexes, sensations and muscle strength in the extremities and the patient’s ability to walk. These tests may include the straight-leg raising test where the patient slowly raises each of his or her legs individually while lying down. A slipped disc usually induces pain and/or numbness in patients as they raise their legs beyond two-thirds of their normal range.

The most effective care for the majority of “slipped” discs consists of your chiropractor performing specific, scientific, chiropractic adjustments to correct the underlying cause of most weakened, and even “slipped” discs, spinal subluxation. Other types of care generally consist of the patient practicing gentle exercises and/or taking prescribed painkillers (if there is significant pain), in the hopes that the disc shrinks of its own accord.

Lifting, reaching and sitting for long periods of time during recovery are to be avoided as they often aggravate the condition. However, exercise is important since movement encourages blood flow to the affected area. Swimming is one of the best methods for exercising during recovery because it releases the compression forces on the spine while promoting blood flow, thereby encouraging the torn disc to repair itself.

Natural recovery often can take months, and even years, and if the symptoms persist more information, (i.e., MRI) mentioned above can be applied. Depending on the severity of the tear, surgery may be necessary, but only after your body has been given ample time to heal. Patience is a real challenge when you are in pain, or are even disabled. A lack of patience is the reason why approximately 1 in 10 cases of herniated discs will end in surgery.

Surgery may consist of open discectomy (where all or a portion of the disc is removed, causing permanent impairment to that area, think of removing a finger and not being impaired), prosthetic disc replacement (where an artificial disc is inserted to replace the damaged disc which is very new and rarely successful), or endoscopic laser discectomy (where the compressed nerve causing the pain is cut around and part of the disc is removed using a laser and endoscope). Recovery from these types of surgery commonly takes weeks and months. In over 50% of cases further surgery will be performed.

The moral of this story is simple, spinal misalignments (subluxations) weaken the discs over decades of slow decay and contribute to the majority of disc issues. As with most conditions, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Regular visits to your chiropractor will remove or reduce long standing subluxation so that it does not lead to a “slipped” disc. As a wonderful side effect, your nerve system will function better leading to better energy, less sickness and suffering and a life full of what you want, as opposed to having pain, going under the knife in the hospital, or simply hurting on a day-to-day basis.

You of course have your homework as well. Engage in regular exercise, avoid sitting for prolonged periods of time, maintain good posture, lift using the proper technique and drink plenty of water (so your discs stay well-hydrated). If you look after your general health and fitness, you will significantly reduce the likelihood of a “slipped” disc.

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