A herniated disc, disc prolapse, or slipped disc…, whatever you call it, it’s painful, and that pain can be debilitating. This condition occurs when one of the discs in the spinal column gets damaged, often putting pressure on the spinal cord, where there is a rich system of nerves. What happens exactly is that the nucleus, or inner part of the disc, pushes through a tear in the annulus, or outer part of the disc. It results in pain that is often felt on one side of the body, along with numbness and/or weakness. What are the possible causes of a herniated disc?
Age-related changes in the spinal cord and degenerative disc disease
It is not exactly a direct cause of disc herniation, but age-related changes in the spinal cord can make disc herniation more likely. As we age, the structure of the discs in our spine naturally begins to deteriorate. Some people develop degenerative disc disease, a form of arthritis in the spine. It can make it easier for a disc to become herniated. Besides, old age makes one more prone to injuries causing a disc herniation.
Your discs can be injured, causing them to herniate. It could be due to an accident; for example, the forward motion caused by a car accident can cause a disc to herniate. A blow on the back or a bad fall could cause direct injury to a disc, causing a tear in the outer part and causing the nucleus to slip through. Injury can even happen from lifting incorrectly. Bending at the waist causes you to lift with a rounded back, putting extreme pressure on your spinal discs. It can damage them, and over time, this damage builds up. The damage also makes them more likely to rupture with an injury. Keep in mind that the place where it’s most common for discs to rupture is in the lumbar spine area (lower back).
Slipped discs can also occur in the neck—the portion of the spine known as the cervical spine. Forward head posture, the way we lean our heads forward to use our phones and other screens, can weaken the discs in the cervical spine. Other risk factors include: being overweight or obese, smoking, high heels, and a sedentary lifestyle.
Genetics may play a role in who is more predisposed to getting herniated discs and who isn’t.
Can you prevent disc herniation?
Yes, and no. You can certainly take steps to reduce your risk of having a herniated disc. However, certain causes, such as age-related degeneration or injury, are out of your hands. Still, there are several things you can do to reduce your risk factors.
- Always lift heavy objects by bending at the knees, not at the waist.
- Move often; don’t lead a sedentary lifestyle. If you have a job that requires lots of sitting, take short breaks to walk around.
- Maintain proper posture.
- Work on strengthening your core muscles. These muscles help you keep proper posture.
- Beware of a forward head posture. It puts a lot of pressure on the cervical spine, damaging the discs.
- Work on maintaining a healthy weight.
If you think you may have a slipped disc, there are things you can do to help. Check out this page for some treatments available to those with a herniated disc.