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Disc Herniation (Slipped Disc)

What is a disc herniation/slipped disc?

The bones in the spine are called vertebrae – these are separated by a soft, rubbery disc that acts as a cushion and allows the spine to bend. If the inner part of the disc ruptures through a weakness in the outer layer, this is known as a herniated disc. It often occurs in the lower back and can put pressure on your spinal nerves, leading to sciatica.

What causes a disc herniation/slipped disc?

Disc herniations/slipped discs become more likely with older age due to mechanical wear and tear. Some of the things that can increase your risk include:

  • Sustaining a twisting injury or impact
  • Poor technique when lifting weights
  • Being overweight
  • Smoking

How is disc herniation/slipped disc diagnosed?

Symptoms of a disc herniation include lower back pain that can spread down the buttocks and back of the legs (sciatica), and tingling or weakness in your legs. Rarely, it can cause you to lose power in your leg(s), or lose control of your bladder functions – this is a medical emergency called a ‘cauda equina’ and you should go straight to A&E in this situation. A spinal specialist will ask you about your symptoms and perform a careful assessment to pinpoint the problem. Imaging such as x-rays, CT or MRI scans can help to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment and recovery

Non-surgical treatment is often the first line of care and can be effective at relieving your symptoms in many cases. Movement and light exercise, along with physiotherapy and appropriate pain relief will all help to aid your recovery. Sometimes, a spinal injection called a nerve block may be offered. Recovery usually takes up to 6 weeks. Our spinal surgeons take a holistic approach to your treatment, and only recommend surgery after all other treatment options have been exhausted.

If these treatments are not successful, then surgery becomes more likely. Our skilled surgeons are able to perform a microdiscectomy to remove the bulging disc through keyhole surgery, leaving smaller scars and allowing you to recover faster than open surgery. You will need to stay in hospital for 1-2 days while we help you to start walking again and your wound will need to be checked at 2 weeks. Physiotherapy for 4-6 weeks will help speed your recovery and we aim for you to be enjoying your normal everyday life again after 1-2 months.

An artificial disc may be inserted to support the bones, which will make your recovery slightly longer. Additionally, if the disc herniation is in your neck, a procedure known as spinal fusion can be required. This involves using a bone graft (from elsewhere in your body, a donor or artificial bone) to fuse together two or more vertebral bones and stabilise the spine.

For more information or to book an appointment, please contact us.

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