Have I ‘slipped a disc’? Or have I ‘put my back out’?
The intervertebral discs are the soft tissue cushions between each of your spinal vertebrae (bones). Although people commonly say that they’ve ‘slipped’ their disc, the discs are actually firmly attached to the bones above and below – they can’t pop in and out. The discs have two sections. The outer part is made up of layers of fibrous material and strongly attaches to the bones above and below – like layers of an onion. The inner part is a soft, toothpaste-like substance that is able to squash and provides movement and shock-absorption between the bones. Discs are often injured over a period of time – with even some minor injuries, the layers of the fibrous tissue tear from the inside out.
We only start to feel pain from our discs once we’ve torn through about two-thirds of the disc. Often this is felt as pain in the back. If enough damage occurs, the thinning edge of the disc will start to bulge, and the soft inner material can irritate your spinal nerves, giving you sharp pain that may shoot into your bottom, thigh or down your leg.
So – no, you haven’t ‘slipped’ a disc, or put your back out, but you may have sustained some damage to your intervertebral discs. A good rehabilitation program is important to allow the disc to heal well. This will include a focus on your posture and using your abdominal muscles to carefully support the healing disc. As your function and pain improves, a graduated exercise program, to strengthen your supporting muscles and prevent future damage, is highly recommended.