A to Z: Slipped Disc

A to Z: Slipped Disc

May also be called: Herniated Disc; Ruptured Disc; Prolapsed Disc; Herniation of Nucleus Pulposus

A slipped disc is when a disc between two bones of the spine bulges out of place.

More to Know

The bones of the spine (vertebrae) are like rings stacked up to form a tunnel called the spinal column. Nerves from the brain run down the spinal column and branch off to reach all parts of the body. Vertebrae are separated by rubbery cushions called discs that protect the spinal column and allow the back to bend and move. When one of the discs moves out of place (herniates) or breaks open (ruptures), it can put pressure on the spinal nerves and cause pain, numbness, or weakness in part of the body.

Slipped discs happen most often in the lower part of the back, or lumbar spine. This generally causes pain and numbness in the legs and lower body. Rarely, a disc can rupture in the neck, or cervical spine, which can cause pain and numbness in the arm and shoulder.

In many cases, the pain may be mild (or there might not be any pain at all), but in some cases it can be so severe that it affects movement and makes it impossible to find a comfortable position.

In young people, slipped discs happen most often due to activities that put extra stress on the back, like gymnastics, wrestling, and heavy lifting. They’re also more common in people who are overweight. Slipped discs also can affect older adults whose discs may degenerate (break down) as they age.

Many slipped discs improve on their own or with physical therapy and pain medicines. Rarely, surgery might be done to treat the condition.

Keep in Mind

Most of the time, slipped discs respond well to things like rest, positive lifestyle changes, and physical therapy to strengthen the back and make it more flexible. Surgery is usually only done if nothing else relieves the pain and other symptoms.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.