Slipped Discs: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options

The spine is an essential part of the human body. This is because the spine supports our body and helps to keep it upright.

If it were not for the structure that the spine provides us with, we would struggle to engage in our day-to-day activities.

What is a slipped disc?

Our spine is composed of vertebrae, which are bones that are stacked one on top of the other, producing columns. In between the columns of these bones, there are discs that absorb pressure and prevent friction in the bones.

However, there is a possibility that these discs get pushed out of their original position, and the tissue protrudes out towards the surrounding nerves. This condition is known as a slipped, ruptured, prolapsed, or herniated disc.

According to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, slipped disc cases are reported in approximately 5 to 20 cases per 1,000 adults annually. Additionally, it is most common in people in their third to the fifth decade of life, with a male to female ratio of 2:1. (Source: NCBI)

The estimated prevalence of symptomatic herniated disc of the lumbar spine is about 1 to 3 percent of patients. The prevalence is most significant among 30- to 50-year-olds. Patients between 25 to 55 years old have an approximately 95 percent chance of having a herniated disc. (Source: NCBI)

What are the causes of a slipped disc?

A slipped disc can be a result of various factors, including:

  1. The wear and tear of the disc as a person age may lead to disc degeneration and a loss in its elasticity.
  2. Doing strenuous exercises or physical activity.
  3. Injury from lifting large and heavy objects or lifting objects in the wrong manner.
  4. Living a sedentary lifestyle or being overweight.

What are the signs and symptoms of a slipped disc?

Following are some warning signs of a slipped disc:

  • Lower back pain
  • Pain in the legs, hips, or buttocks
  • Numbness in the body
  • Neck pain
  • Struggling to move limbs
  • Sudden muscle weakness
  • Inability to control bowel movements
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Loss of reflexes in the legs

That said, some people may never experience any symptoms and may not know that they have a slipped disc.

However, it is recommended to consult a doctor as soon as you feel pain or notice the first signs of a slipped disc.

What are the risk factors of a slipped disc?

People at risk of having a slipped disc include:

  • Those having excess body weight
  • Those involved in physically demanding jobs
  • People who need to drive extensively
  • Those having a sedentary lifestyle
  • Those involved excessively in exercises like weightlifting, etc
  • Sportsmen
  • Genetics

How is a slipped disc diagnosed?

An orthopaedic specialist will first evaluate your source of pain via a physical exam and ask for details about the patient’s medical history and the symptoms they face. To identify the affected areas in the spine, the doctor may utilise imaging scans like:

  • X-rays
  • CT scans
  • MRI scans
  • Myelograms
  • Discograms

Ultimately, your diagnosis will be determined by the information gathered from these tests.

What are the treatment options for a slipped disc?

The treatment options for slipped discs range from conservative to surgical.

The doctor will suggest a treatment that caters to the patient’s condition. Needless to say, it will also depend on your level of discomfort, pain, and the extent of the prolapse of the disc.

Slipped disc treatment without surgery

  • Medication: The main non-surgical treatment for a slipped disc is taking medication. A doctor may prescribe regular pain killers or narcotics to maintain comfort while the patient is on therapy treatments.
    However, for some people, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen may not be the most suitable option as the pain could be too excruciating. In such cases, the doctor may give stronger medications, such as muscle relaxants and nerve pain medications.
  • Rest and stay active: For those who are experiencing high-intensity pain, it is crucial to get sufficient rest. However, it is recommended to stay active and engage in light physical activity as soon as one is able to. By not keeping active and merely refraining from all physical activity, the patient may increase the chances of more muscle weakness and stiffness in the joints.
    Low-intensity activities like walking are highly recommended. Besides that, it is advisable to meet a physical therapist and enrol in an exercise program that stretches and strengthens the back and nearby muscles.
  • Home remedies: Home remedies like using an ice pack or a warm wet towel on the sore areas may sometimes help.
  • Alternative medicine: Some forms of alternative medicine, like chiropractic techniques, acupuncture, and massages, can play a role in easing the back pain caused by the slipped disc.

Surgical treatments for slipped disc

When it comes to slipped discs, surgery is not an immediate option since the pain can be relieved over time with medications and therapy interventions.

Having said that, if the symptoms have not improved despite taking treatments, and the patient finds that the muscle weakness is getting worse, doctors may discuss potential surgery options.

One surgical option is a discectomy, where the portion of the disc which is protruding is taken out to alleviate the pain and pressure forced upon the nerve. The doctor may replace the disc affected with an artificial one or fuse the vertebrae together in more extreme cases of slipped discs.

How long does it take for a slipped disc to heal?

While every case is different and every patient heals in his/her own time, it is estimated that the slipped disc should heal by six weeks. If the pain and discomfort persist after six weeks, you should visit your doctor.

What are the complications if a slipped disc is left untreated?

If left untreated, a slipped disc may have some potential negative consequences on your life.

There is a possibility of a slipped disc causing permanent nerve damage. This is because the slipped disc could cut and stop the nerve impulses to the cauda equina nerves in both the lower back and legs. In worse case scenarios, a patient may lose the ability to manage their bowel and bladder control.

There is also a long-term complication known as saddle anaesthesia. In this, the nerves are compressed by the slipped disc, causing a loss of sensation in certain parts of the body, like the inner thighs, back of the legs, and the rectum area.

How to prevent slipped discs?

Maintaining a healthy weight with regular physical activity and exercise is the primary way to reduce the chances of having slipped discs.

In addition to that, keeping a good posture helps reduce the pressure on the spine and discs.

Furthermore, being cautious when lifting heavy objects by using safe lifting techniques is advisable. Try to bend and squat to lift the object instead of just picking it up.

How to sit with a slipped disc?

When sitting on a chair, the spine should be firmly rested against the backseat of the chair. Maintain a straight posture and avoid slouching at all times. Keep the feet flat on the floor and the knees at the same level as hips.

To add on some more support, place a small pillow or cushion between the arch of your lower back and the chair. If one is required to sit for long periods of time, it is crucial to take a break at least every half an hour or so.

How to sleep with a slipped disc?

Avoid sleeping on the stomach as this will strain the neck, but if you must sleep in such a position, place a pillow under the hips and knees. By doing this, you can relieve any pressure.

Another alternative would be to sleep on your side and place a pillow between the knees.

Out of all the ways to sleep, the best position would be on your back. A pillow could be placed under the knees and lower back for more comfort.

Book an appointment at Pantai Hospital

It is vital to take care of your body to prevent getting a slipped disc. This is especially true if you have any of the risk factors mentioned earlier in the article.

However, if you do get a slipped disc diagnosis, be reassured that the combination of medication focused therapy and new treatment technologies can help most people get back to normal.

If you or a loved one is experiencing physical pain or discomfort due to a possible orthopaedic disorder, do not hesitate to get in touch with us for an appointment today.

Pantai Hospitals have been accredited by the Malaysian Society for Quality in Health (MSQH) for its commitment to patient safety and service quality.


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Nall, Rachel. (28 Aug. 2020). “Slipped (Herniated) Disc.” Available at [Accessed 17 Feb 2022]

National Health Service (NHS). (n.d.). “Slipped Disc.” Available at,rest%2C%20gentle%20exercise%20and%20painkillers. [Accessed 17 Feb 2022]

Nazario, Brunilda. (22 Sept. 2020). “Herniated Disk Diagnosis.” Available at [Accessed 17 Feb 2022]

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