Slipped disc or herniated disc is a condition of the spine which occurs when the outer layer of the spinal disc is ruptured and the gel inside slips out and starts to bulge and protrude.

Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma is said to be suffering from slipped disc- a very common occurrence that doesn’t always cause symptoms and many of us can live a normal life without even knowing that we have it. However, depending on the level of herniation (injury to the cushioning and connective tissue between vertebrae), the symptoms show variation among patients.

Why does it happen

Your spine is made up of four parts: Bones, discs, nerves and soft tissue (muscle). The soft muscle tissue carries 70% of the load on your spine, only 30% is borne by your bones. When your muscle tissue is unable to support your back, your bones and discs are forced to take additional load.

A disc can slip out of place while you are twisting or turning to lift an object. If you have a very physically demanding job that requires a lot of lifting or prolonged posture, you may be at increased risk for slipped disc.

How to treat slipped disc without surgery

Less than 20% slipped disc cases may require surgery. European, American and Australian medical guidelines recommend conservative treatment (non-surgical methods) as the first line of action.

Spine surgery can bring faster pain relief in some cases, however, it could either be short-lived or fail. If you do not treat the underlying problem, the pain will come back. Conservative management of back pain is therefore important for long term relief.

There are several methods to manage slipped disc non-surgically that can help to curb the pain as well as improve mobility. Here are a few:

Non-surgical conservative management includes:

1. Slip disc-specific pain can be controlled with various pain relief treatments. Medication is one of them. However, research suggests that newer treatments such as Cell Repair Technology are safer alternatives to painkiller medications such as Opioids or NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).

2. Cell Repair Technology has been proven to enhance the healing process in damaged soft tissue and can potentially reduce inflammation and pain. It also has no long-term side effects compared to most painkillers.

3. There are multiple approaches to spine treatments. However, device-based spine therapy under the guidance of spine specialist is recommended by leading spine surgeons. Device based isolation treatment can stabilize the spine and target the exact muscle tissue which restricted physical movement. This helps to improve the mechanical functioning of the spine, manage pain, promote regeneration of the affected tissue and disc, and with functional training improve strength and flexibility leading to long term recovery.

4. Using psychological treatment program in combination with the above methods can help treat the pain. The patient undergoes psychological assessment and treatment through cognitive behavioural therapy. This helps the patient to manage chronic pain effectively.

5. Posture and ergonomic correction: Patients benefit from ergonomic changes in their daily routine. This helps in reducing the load on their spine and managing further recurrences. Here is how you can learn to ensure right posture and ergonomics:

6. Sit on a chair which adequately supports your entire back. You may need additional spine supports which help you maintain the correct posture of the spine.

7. Ensure correct positioning of chair while you work. The right position is when your back is S- shape, this is when there is least stress over your spine.

Adjust the height of your work station according to the nature of your work. Any work requiring high precision needs a higher desk, while work requiring lower precision needs a lower desk.

8. Take regular breaks every 30-45 mins. Avoid prolonged positions as they increase stress over your spinal structures.

Avoid furniture that cause you to slouch or sway. The right furniture improves your posture and supports your back.

Lifestyle modifications: Statistics worldwide show that a high number of cases of slipped disc are related to sedentary lifestyle, lack of awareness, smoking, and high alcohol-consumption. Tackling risk factors to slipped disc is an effective way of treating and preventing back pain caused due to slipped disc. These lifestyle modifications for managing risk factors include stress management, shoe inserts, back support, ergonomic/back education and endurance activities like walking, swimming etc.

Initial stages of back pain can be managed through rest, topical analgesics, heating pads, avoidance of pain causing activity/ position. Staying physically active is likely to be beneficial especially for prevention and maintenance of core muscles. These should only be tried under the guidance of a trained physical therapist.

Dr Garima Anandani, Senior Spine Specialist and Clinical Director, QI Spine Clinic