Slipped Disc and Sciatica

What is Slipped Disc and Sciatica?

Slipped disc, also known as a herniated disc in Singapore, is where your lumbar discs are “pushed out” of their usual location. Lumbar discs can be described as a “cushion” with a gelatinous centre (nucleus pulpous) encapsulated by thick fibrous cartilage (annulus) found between the spaces of your lumbar. They are pertinent in providing shock absorption properties, mobility and flexibility of the spine and avoiding excessive movements.

Consequently, when slipped discs occur, the structural changes in the discs lead to a deviation from their original location, subsequently coming in contact with spinal nerves. In this case, the sciatic nerve. The continuous contact, thus, leads to sciatica, an irritation that occurs along the pathway of your sciatica nerve extending from your lower back to the foot.

Thus, it is important to treat slipped sics and sciatica concurrently. The management of one will relieve the issues presented by the other, subsequently providing a holistic cure to the issue in its entirety.

A slipped disc can be summed as a tear in the annulus (fibrous cartilage),  causing the nucleus (inner gelatinous portion) to leak. This may occur in stages or acutely. Regardless of the stage of herniation, one tends to feel the impact of disc herniation and sciatica early on.

Slipped disc and sciatica are interrelated spinal issues.

What causes Slipped Discs and Sciatica?

Slipped discs can result from an injury from improper movements (excessively twisting the body) or lifting heavy weights. Improper resting posture over a long period may also cause slipped discs as the spaces between your vertebrae become compromised. Additionally, slipped discs may also be due to degeneration that occurs over some time.

Sciatica, on the other hand, is not a condition by itself but rather a secondary symptom stemming from issues such as slipped disc, degenerative disc, bone spurs, or spinal tumours (link to service page). It is fundamentally an irritation of the sciatic nerve due to prolonged compression from disc herniation or abnormal growth in the spine.

What are the symptoms of Slipped Disc and Sciatica?

Slipped discs can occur anywhere from the top of your spine to the bottom. The location will result in different manifestations of symptoms.

Slipped disc symptoms include:

  • Lower back pain that radiates to your feet progressively
  • Numbness in areas such as the shoulder, back, arms, hands, legs, and feet
  • Persistent neck pain
  • Pain that occurs on one side of the body
  • Pain when bending or straightening the spine
  • Pain that builds up from physical activities such as walking
  • Loss of sensation and numbness
  • Impediment in foot reflexes
  • Weakness when bending the knee

Sciatica symptoms include:

  • Burning or electric shock-like pain in the affected leg
  • Pins and needles
  • Numbness in your leg or back
  • Faecal or urine incontinence
  • Muscle weakness in the back or legs
Young man having back pain after workout at the gym.

Are Slipped Discs and Sciatica painful?

Yes, slipped discs and sciatica are generally painful conditions. The pain may be worsened at night and when sneezing and coughing. Occasionally, patients have reported sensations of “jolting” akin to electrical shocks when moving. The pain can range from persistent irritation to excruciating, depending on the severity of your condition.

Who is at risk of Slipped Disc and Sciatica in Singapore?

Slipped discs and sciatica can occur to virtually anyone. It is still unknown how much of the prevalent back pain in Singapore is attributed explicitly to slipped discs and sciatica. Risk factors that increase your likelihood of these conditions include:

  • Gender: slipped discs and sciatica are generally more common in men than women; however, recent research has indicated they may be more common in elderly women than in elderly men.
  • Age: slipped discs and sciatica tend to be prevalent in adults between the ages of 30-40.
  • Lifestyle factors: sedentary lifestyles such as those with office jobs, physically demanding jobs and smoking are some lifestyle factors that increase the likelihood of slipped discs and sciatica.
  • Athletes: specifically weight lifters or even frequent gym goers, have increased risks attributed to improper movement.
  • Health conditions: those with health conditions such as obesity, spinal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis tend to have increased risks of slipped discs and sciatica.
 X-ray of slipped disc
Imaging tests such as X-rays are usually sufficient in diagnosing slipped discs and sciatica.

How are Slipped Disc and Sciatica diagnosed in Singapore?

The diagnosis of slipped discs and sciatica is usually prompt. Diagnostics phases include:

  • Medical review: your neurosurgeon will identify your symptoms and identify any risk factors.
  • Physical examination: a physical exam will be conducted to assess your neurological function, reflexes, and specific pain points.
  • Imaging tests: such as X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT) are usually sufficient in identifying the occurrence of slipped discs.
  • Electromyogram and Nerve Conduction Studies (EMG/NCS): a nerve conduction test might be administered to identify any nerve damage.

What are the treatment options for Slipped Disc and Sciatica in Singapore?

The exact treatment administered varies depending on the severity of your condition. The treatment approach may include:

  • Nonsurgical approach: physical therapy and medication such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) will be suggested first, particularly in less severe cases.
  • Injections: an epidural steroid injection may be administered at the site of herniation to reduce pain levels and improve sciatica symptoms.
  • Surgery: a spinal surgery would be recommended if conservative measures do not prevail. Surgical options could include a discectomy (insert link to service page), a spinal fusion (insert link to service page), or an artificial disk replacement (insert link to service page).

Frequently asked questions  

How do you get the slipped disc back in place?

You can attempt treating slipped discs at home by observing sufficient rest and reducing the pressure placed on your back. For instance, if you work long hours at the desk, investing in an ergonomic set-up could relieve back pressure immensely. Certain stretches may also bring relief to the pressure in your lumbar. However, if your pain worsens, visit a neuro specialist (link to contact us) to prevent exacerbating your condition.

How do you know if a slipped disc has healed?

Indications of a healed slipped disc would include a reduction in pain levels. You may also observe improved flexibility of your spine. Generally, you will no longer face symptoms such as pain when sneezing or coughing, and reduced sleep quality from back pain. You may also regain sensation where numbness was previously present. However, you should still practice good posture and caution to avoid recurrence.

How to cure sciatica permanently?

To cure sciatica permanently, you need to address the underlying issue. In this case, addressing your slipped discs with the necessary treatment approach will eventually reduce the irritation of your sciatic nerve.

How long does it take for sciatica to go away?

It usually takes up to 12 weeks for symptoms of sciatica to resolve. This depends on how early intervention is introduced, the adjustments you make to your lifestyle and your commitment to recovery.

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Copyright © 2023 Chou Neuroscience Clinic. All Rights Reserved