How do you deal with a slipped disc?

There was a time when problems like backache and neck pain were seen only in the elderly.

But, in the last decade, an increasing number of younger people are being affected by these problems. Even though many blame the increasing use of computers, it is a reflection of overall change of lifestyle.

How it happens

The disc is actually a soft structure between every vertebra (two bones of the spine), which acts like a shock absorber and is also responsible for the spine's mobility. If the disc undergoes wear and tear or if a part of it is displaced, it is called Slipped Disc. This is clinically important because a slipped disc can cause pressure on the nerves giving rise to pain.

When the slipped disc occurs in the back and the nerve to the leg is compressed it is called sciatica. Similar pain may occur in the arm if one of the discs in the neck region compresses the nerves. If the pressure on the nerve is severe it may lead to dysfunction causing tingling, numbness, weakness or loss of power. Very rarely if the disc ruptures or causes severe pressure the patient may lose power in legs or even lose control of bladder and bowel.

Main causes

The reasons leading to slipped disc are mainly ageing and stressful lifestyle. Usually more than 60 per cent of people above 60 years suffer from some form of degeneration of disc but many now suffer from slipped disc even at the age of 30.

Lack of exercise, a sedentary lifestyle, physical and mental stress, lack of sleep and bad posture are some causes. Bad posture during daily activities leads to early wear and tear of the spine. This, in turn, is caused by being overweight, flabby muscles, bad habits like smoking, lack of exercise, lack of sleep, deficiency of vitamins and calcium

Yet some people still wind up with a slipped disc. They need proper evaluation with examination, x-rays and, sometimes, tests like an MRI.

Once the extent of the problem is known treatment can be begun. This can include rest, medicines, physical therapies like heat, traction or manual therapies and exercise. More than 80 per cent of patients respond to this but some may need hospitalisation.

Treatment

In rare cases, if the pain persists, surgery may be necessary to remove the pressure on the nerves. New techniques of minimally invasive surgery have led to improved success rates and patients can join work in a few days. Recent techniques like disc replacement surgeries can actually recreate the natural disc mechanics and reduce the chance of further wear and tear of other discs. However the best treatment still remains prevention.

As we become busier in building a better economy, it is important to remember that wealth should not be achieved at the cost of health. It is more important to remain healthy if you wan to utilise your health properly and enjoy. So make sure to don your sports shoes and hit the ground everyday.

What you should do

To avoid the possibility of early slipped disc, one must maintain a healthy lifestyle, i.e. regular exercise, balanced diet, moderation in work and recreation, stress management and proper posture.

Work out for at least 45 minutes five days a week. Including cardiovascular exercises, stretches and yoga along with weight training.

Include enough proteins along with vitamins and calcium. Lots of fruits and green vegetables is essential.

Stress management with frequent breaks or hobbies like music help.

Proper posture at workplace is crucial.

The author is a leading Spine Surgeon based in Pune.

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