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Slipped disc – Do’s and don’ts

A slipped disc can be very painful and debilitating. However, in most cases, it should get better on its own, within six-eight weeks and there are certain things that you can do and avoid doing to aid and speed up your recovery.

What happens in a slipped disc?

Slipped DiscAlthough people often mention about having a slipped disc, nothing in your spine has actually slipped out of place. Having a slipped disc means that one of the discs which sit between each of the bones in your spine has been damaged. When the disc is damaged, the soft gel-like inner pad of the disc squeezes out through a weak point in the torn outer layer, causing a bulge that often presses on nearby spinal nerves. This result in severe pain with symptoms that radiates down the leg/arm commonly referred to as sciatica. Slipped disc, also known as disc herniation, can occur in any disc in the spine but the two most common forms are lumbar disc and cervical disc herniation.

What can I do?

During the first 48 hours, a torn outer layer of the disc would result in the release of inflammatory chemical mediators which may directly cause severe pain, even in the absence of spinal nerve compression. This is the basis for the use of anti-inflammatory medication for pain associated with disc herniation. Thus, early treatment may include taking painkillers, anti-inflammatory medication and rest to give time for the body to reabsorb the herniated part of the disc. Before taking any medication, always see your doctor for a prescription.

Cold therapy should be applied immediately and after any activity that aggravates your symptoms as it helps to reduce pain and swelling. Use an ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel for no more than 10 minutes, every 2-3hrs. After 72hours or more Heat therapy, such as a wheat bag or warm soak can be used to promote muscle relaxation and pain relieve and may be used before performing stretching and strengthening exercises.

As the pain lessens, you will most likely to return to work and begin exercises to strengthen your back muscles and joints. Exercise is introduced to improve strength, flexibility and proper back mechanics as part of recovery. A physiotherapist will be able to give you an individually tailored exercise plan to help to strengthen any muscles that have become weak and also using techniques such as spinal manipulation to help improve the mobility of the spine. Physiotherapy would also help to correct one’s posture and use body mechanics to minimize stress and strain on any portion of your spine. This includes incorporating these exercises and posture principles into all your daily (e.g. sitting and lifting) and recreational activities.

What shall I avoid doing?

Don’t rest excessively and avoid activities. Studies have shown that it is important for one to remain active and keep up with your normal activities as much as possible.

However, it is paramount to discontinue with any activities that aggravate your symptoms such as bending over, heavy lifting and any quick twisting or jerking motions. Avoid standing or sitting (e.g. driving) for extended period of time as it would increase strain to your spine and aggravate disc pain. At home, keep away from overstuffed and low furniture, because it is difficult to stand back up after sitting in them. Don’t lie on stomach and prolonged bed rest especially during early stage post injury.

In the long run

Back pain from a slipped disc may return, whether or not you have had treatment and it is important to learn how to avoid damaging your back again.

The outcome for most people is that they will feel better within six-eight weeks; although for others it may take a while longer. With proper care through correct posture, core exercises and back ergonomics, it is possible for one to remain pain-free.

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