Slipped disc – you probably think of severe back pain, loss of sensation and possibly paralysis in the arms or legs when you hear this word. However, such a prolapse can also be accompanied by milder symptoms. In this article, we explain how we can help you with this condition and treat a slipped disc at our private practice for orthopaedics and traumatology in Frankfurt.
What are intervertebral discs and what is their function?
The intervertebral discs act as a kind of shock absorber and allow the spine to move in almost all directions due to their flexible shape. Each disc is located between two vertebrae of the spine, with the exception of those between the first and second cervical vertebrae and between the occipital bone (part of the skull) and the first cervical vertebra.
Each intervertebral disc consists of an outer fibrous ring, also known as the annulus fibrosus, and an inner gelatinous nucleus, known as the nucleus pulposus. The outer fibrous ring is made up of individual cartilage cells (fibrocartilage) and resembles tight connective tissue. These cells are surrounded by cartilage ground substance and lie between bundles of collagen fibres, which gives them a high tensile strength. The inner gelatinous nucleus is soft and flexible, which enables it to move towards the stretched side when the spine bends.
The intervertebral discs are attached to the end surfaces of the overlying and underlying vertebral bodies by a layer of cartilage. Their wedge-shaped form adapts to the natural curvature of the spine.
Slipped disc: When the soft core of an intervertebral disc protrudes from its normal position
A slipped disc occurs when the soft gelatinous nucleus protrudes from the disc due to damage to the fibrous ring or its instability. In some cases, the nucleus may even protrude through the fibrous ring. If the nucleus leaves the disc, there is a risk that it will compress the spinal cord and the spinal nerves emerging from the vertebrae. This can lead to pain and impairment of the spinal cord as well as neurological problems. A slipped disc can cause burning pain, tingling or a feeling of running ants in the arms and legs, numbness or even paralysis of the extremities. However, there are also cases in which patients have a slipped disc without noticing any obvious symptoms.
How does a slipped disc occur?
A slipped disc usually occurs due to degeneration or damage to the intervertebral disc. Common causes are
Age-related wear and tear
The natural ageing process can cause intervertebral discs to lose elasticity and become drier. This makes them more susceptible to tears and leaks of the gelatinous nucleus.
A fall or accident, for example, can damage the outer fibrous ring and cause a herniated disc.
Heavy lifting, poor posture and repetitive movements that strain the spine can put excessive strain on the discs and lead to wear and damage.
Smoking and poor diet
Smoking and an unhealthy diet can reduce blood flow to the intervertebral discs and affect their health.
Some people are naturally more susceptible to disc degeneration. A corresponding genetic predisposition can increase the risk of slipped discs.
Slipped disc and bulging disc: what is the difference?
It is crucial to differentiate between a slipped disc (prolapse) and a bulging disc (disc protrusion). In a disc protrusion, the inner disc tissue moves outwards without the fibrous ring rupturing. This can cause symptoms similar to a slipped disc. A classic example is lumbago, which is accompanied by sudden, severe pain in the lumbar vertebrae.
How is a prolapse diagnosed?
The diagnosis of a slipped disc usually involves several steps and examinations to accurately confirm the condition and assess its severity:
We begin with a detailed interview to gather information about your symptoms, the duration of your symptoms, any injuries or previous illnesses and your family medical history.
This is followed by a physical examination. We check your muscle strength, reflexes, sensitivity and mobility of your extremities and back.
X-rays can provide information about the general structure of the spine. Magnetic resonance imaging is better suited for diagnosing a slipped disc. An MRI scan provides detailed images of the spine and the intervertebral discs. This allows us to precisely determine the location and severity of the slipped disc. In some cases, a computed tomography (CT) scan can complement the diagnosis to provide additional information about the disc and its effects on the surrounding structures.
How can a slipped disc be treated?
The combination of medical history, physical examination and imaging allows us to precisely locate the slipped disc, assess its severity and create an individual treatment plan for you. We use the results of the diagnosis to determine whether conservative treatments are sufficient or whether surgical intervention is required. Common treatment options at our orthopaedic practice in Frankfurt include
This involves pain management. We can prescribe painkillers, anti-inflammatories and/or muscle relaxants to alleviate your symptoms. Targeted exercises as part of physiotherapy and/or osteopathy have also proven effective. These can strengthen your muscles, improve mobility and reduce pain. Heat and cold applications can also help.
Injection therapy (epidural steroid injection)
To reduce inflammation and relieve pain, we can inject anti-inflammatory medication into the epidural space. This is the space between the outer covering of the spinal cord (dura mater) and the inner part of the spinal column, where the nerve roots and blood vessels are located. Steroids have anti-inflammatory properties. When we inject them into your epidural space, the active ingredients can reduce inflammation that can be associated with herniated discs. This inflammation is often a major cause of pain associated with spinal problems. By reducing the inflammation, the pain in the affected area is usually also reduced.
If conservative measures or injection therapy are not sufficiently effective or if there are severe neurological symptoms (e.g. paralysis), surgery may be considered. During disc surgery, the affected part of the disc is removed. This can be performed in various ways, including minimally invasive procedures.
Treat a slipped disc: Further supportive treatment options in our practice in Frankfurt
Kinesio taping is an alternative medical technique in which we apply special elastic tapes to your skin. In this way, we can treat various muscular and joint-related problems. In some cases of slipped discs, kinesio taping can help to relieve pain and improve mobility in addition to conservative treatment. This is due to the fact that the tapes lift the skin and promote blood circulation. They can also support the affected muscles, relieve pressure on the spine and reduce pressure on the affected disc.
Acupuncture can also be useful as part of comprehensive pain treatment for a slipped disc. The insertion of special needles can help to relieve pain associated with a slipped disc by releasing endorphins and influencing pain conduction. Acupuncture can also help to relieve muscle tension, which often occurs with slipped discs, and thus also improve mobility. The stimulation of certain acupuncture points can also promote blood circulation in the affected area. This can also support healing.
Slipped disc treatment in Frankfurt
As you can see: The choice of treatment measures depends on your individual situation and your symptoms. We work closely with you to treat your slipped disc. We develop the best possible conservative treatment strategy and do everything we can to minimise the pain and limitations caused by the prolapse. Feel free to contact us – we are your experts in Frankfurt for spinal therapy!
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