What is a prolapsed disc?

04 July 2016

guy leaning forward on his phone

Low back pain is extremely common in the adult population of the UK but only a small percentage of these sufferers have back pain due to a prolapsed disc. 

The bones which make up the spine are called vertebrae and in between each one you have an intervertebral disc. These discs act as shock absorbers to reduce pressure through the body. They have to withstand a great deal of force due to day to day activities; simple things such as housework, gardening, playing sport, picking up children are all examples of this.

What can cause a prolapse?

Increased stress to these discs due to trauma, poor posture, altered gait and, most commonly, being sat at a desk too long can all cause small tears to occur in the outer walls of the disc (the annular fibres). Being in the seated position puts four times the amount of force through your lower back joints than any other stationary position. If too many of these tears occur, the centre of the disc, which is gel like (the nucleus), can work its way to the outer layers of the disc, causing a bulge and, if the stress continues, the gel can then prolapse completely. This normally occurs at the back of the disc and can start to press onto and irritate the spinal nerves.

When this happens pain is often felt travelling down the leg – often referred to as sciatica, sometimes with no noticeable back pain at all. Pins and needles and/or numbness can also be felt with occasional weakness in certain muscles of the leg. In extremely bad situations, the prolapse can be so large that it starts to compress the actual spinal cord. This produces any of the following: numbness in the buttocks – the saddle area, incontinence, weakness in both legs and any of the previous symptoms, but normally in both legs not just one.

If you experience any of these extreme symptoms it is best to call your Chiropractor or GP immediately and if out of hours NHS direct on 111. 

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