Do not ignore that persistent neck pain, or the pain that travels up and down one or both arms. Nor should you neglect that lingering lower back pain that radiates to the legs and buttocks. These are all warning signs of a possible slipped disc, also known as herniated disc.

“While normal muscle ache tends to be localised in the injured muscle, pain from a slipped disc tends to radiate to the shoulders, arms or legs, depending on which part of the spine is affected,” says Dr Guo Chang Ming, Senior Consultant, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Singapore General Hospital​ (SGH), a member of the SingHealth​ group.

When a slipped disc pinches a nerve or presses on the spinal cord, the pain is accompanied by numbness, a tingling sensation and muscle weakness. These symptoms may impair limb coordination or the ability to lift and carry objects, adds Dr Guo.

What is a slipped disc?

The human spine is made up of 24 bones called vertebrae. In between each vertebra is a small, spongy disc which acts as the spine’s cushion or shock absorber. These discs keep the spine flexible.

A slipped disc or herniated disc occurs when the outer layer of the disc cracks or ruptures, exposing the inner soft, jelly-like substance which now protrudes out. In attempting to heal the crack, the body may turn the slipped disc into a fibrous scar tissue known as bone spur.

A slipped disc can happen anywhere along the spine, but it usually affects the lower back (lumbar spine) and sometimes, the neck (cervical spine).

What causes a slipped disc?

As the spinal discs lose their elasticity due to ageing, they become more prone to tearing. Any action that exerts too much pressure on the spine, such as lifting heavy objects, may lead to one or more slipped discs.

Symptoms of a slipped disc

  • Mild to sharp pain in the neck, shoulders or lower back
  • Numbness, tingling or weakness in one arm or hand (slipped disc in the neck)
  • Numbness, tingling or weakness in the legs, feet or buttocks (slipped disc in the back)
  • Shooting pain when sneezing or coughing
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

Learn the various treatment and prevention tips in the next page.

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