The vertebrae in your spine are linked together by discs, which contain soft, cushioning tissues. If there’s a weakness in a disc’s outer shell, tissues can bulge out, pushing against a spinal nerve. This can trigger severe back pain, often lower back pain.
Usually, the painful symptoms of a slipped disc will gradually improve over a few weeks. However, if the pain continues and is affecting your daily life, your GP may recommend treatment.
A slipped disc is more likely if you’re 30–50 years old, with men twice as likely to be affected. Factors which increase the risk of a slipped disc include:
However, if you already have a weakness in one of your discs, even something as simple as a sneeze or awkward movement can cause a slipped disc.
If you have a slipped disc, the first sign is often sudden, severe back pain.
Other symptoms include:
There’s also a rare nerve condition which affects the base of the spinal cord called cauda equina syndrome. Contact your doctor immediately if you have lower back pain accompanied by any of the following symptoms:
After a month, if you still have severe back pain or sciatica, make an appointment to see your GP.
Following an examination, your GP may prescribe muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory painkillers or a steroid injection. They may also suggest spine-strengthening exercises, physiotherapy or spinal manipulation.
If your symptoms are very severe, your GP may send you for an X-ray or MRI scan. This will reveal the location and severity of your slipped disc and will help rule out degenerative disc disease.
Initially, you can help relieve the severe back pain caused by a slipped disc by:
If your symptoms continue for a month, contact your GP, who may recommend treatment or refer you to a consultant. Your consultant will discuss your options, including surgery, although this is usually only recommended for severe back pain.