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Do I have a slipped disc or not?

Do I have a slipped disc or not?

Slipped disc, sciatica, herniated disc, a pinched nerve, the list can go on but they all tend to mean one of 2 things or both, back pain that runs down your leg. This article is to set the record straight on all counts.

First if all, there is no such thing as a slipped disc, it neither slips and nor is it a disc. You either have a bulging disc or a herniated disc. The keen eyed amongst you will have noticed that I used the word disc there but I actually intended to use the correct term 'nucleosus pulposus'. For the sake of argument let's call it a disc.

If you have back pain of any severity, then you cannot rule out that it is not a disc problem. It manifests in many ways, the most common conception is that of back pain with pain that then runs down the leg. Here we can make a distinction, if the pain runs down the leg and past your knee, then we are probably talking about a disc problem. Added to that there are other features such as pins and needles or numbness in the foot. Quite often the pain in the foot is far worse than the pain in the back and is often perceived as a burning pain or electric shock like.

Leg pain is not always due to a pinching of the nerves. As mentioned above, if the pain doesn't go past the knee, then quite often it is due to muscles that are under a lot of tension and refer the pain a little further along the leg. As a rule, the pain is often described as deep and nondescript.

The next set of criteria often reflect the mode of onset. A disc herniation is never due to a simple case of cause and effect. It is a process that has occurred over a period of time and one day, the nerves and the back decide to tell your brain and body about the problem. I have lost count of the number of times that someone informs me with great authority that it was the mattress that they slept on one night caused the disc to herniate. Sadly, it is often quite an innocuous series of events such as bending down to pick up a tissue or sneezing that sends you into an awful world of pain. If you want to know one thing that can set it off, that will be the trio of bending, lifting and twisting.

What causes a disc to get to the point that it ruptures and starts to press on the nerves? As I mentioned before, it is a series of processes over time that creates the end result but there are a few key factors: your weight, your exercise levels (either too much or too little), your diet, your circulation (a subtle hint that lifestyle choices such as smoking can be a cause of back pain), your job (whether it be sedentary or too physical) and to a lesser extent your genes.

Unfortunately, issues with your discs are very common and whilst they don't all manifest as back pain, they are all a consequence of our lifestyles and the world that we live in. So back pain, no matter how mild, should always get checked out. Chiropractors, osteopaths and physiotherapists are all trained to examine the source of the problem and are best suited to taking care of the problem.

If you have any questions or you think that you may have a disc related episode of back pain then email me, Alan Binns DC on

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