The “Slipped Disc”

The “Slipped Disc’

Intervertebral discs in your back cannot actually “slip out” of place. It is better to classify them as bulging or herniated. A chiropractor would help assess if you have a true lower back disc problem, like a L4-5 or L5-S1 herniation, causing the lower back pain.

Spinal discs are made of outer fibrous rings (annulus fibrosus) attached to the vertebrae, with a softer gel sac inner core (nucleus pulposus). The annulus can tear from trauma or degeneration causing pain. Later on this can allow the inner gel sac (nucleus pulposus) to try push out. Direct mechanical pressure from the disc or inflammatory chemical irritation to the spinal nerve(s) can occur. This is known as a pinched nerve or trapped nerve in your spine and is medically referred to as a radiculopathy.

Pinched nerve(s) from your lumbar spine can cause pain in your back, and/or ‘referred’ nerve symptoms (pain, pins and needles, numbness or weakness) over an area that the nerve(s) supplies. In the case of the lower back, nerves cause sciatica, which is pain in the leg.

People can be confused when health care professionals explain a back disc problem, or why the nerve is pinched and what the x-rays or MRI scan means. That is why a chiropractor, when you come in saying you think you “pinched a nerve” or ‘slipped a disc’, will ask detailed questions first and then perform orthopaedic and neurological tests to assess your spinal nerves, joints and muscles.

A chiropractor may refer you to get an image of your spine using x-rays. X-rays will assess your bone and joint quality only, and does not show the disc and nerves. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the lumbar spine is needed to see the quality of your spinal discs and nerves. If there is a spinal disc problem your chiropractor will tell you and depending on their findings recommend either conservative care or if nerves are severely compressed refer you to a surgeon for a spinal surgery assessment.