Can You Really Get A Slipped Disc?


Hi everyone, how are you going? Karen Finnin here, Physiotherapist and Director of Online Physio.

You might have noticed I’ve got a friend in the shot here.

So this is George, he’s a skeleton and I’ve chopped off his head today because really, what we want to focus on is his lower back.

So this is the front of him, this is the back of him and this is his spine here.

Today I’ve got another myth that I would like to debunk for you and that is the terminology of having a ‘slipped disc’.

So our spine is made up of a series of blocks of bone called vertebra okay, and between all these vertebrae, you can see they’re the yellow things here are disks.

Now bones are hard but disks are squishy, and that’s what allows our vertebral column to have flexibility.

Okay, now discs are completely and intimately fused to the bone above and the bone below, so the actual disc itself can’t slip anywhere, so the terminology is a little bit incorrect if you’re actual disc and vertebra completely slipped out you’d be in a lot of trouble, and these are the type of spinal injuries that lead to paraplegia or quadriplegia.

So really what people often are referring to when they talk about having a ‘slipped disc’ is that that disc is bulging or protruding.

So what can happen over time with a lot of loaded flexion, with a lot of lifting, with a lot of sitting, and perhaps correlated with being unfit or having poor strength around the trunk, the contents of the disk can bulge out at the back here, okay.

So it’s not slipping, the whole vertebra isn’t slipping or moving, the disc isn’t slipping anywhere, but the back part of the disc can swell up and that’s what causes pain and symptoms.

So, yes discs can absolutely cause nasty pain in people’s backs, but it’s not that the disc is ‘slipping’, it’s that it is swelling or bulging.

I hope that’s cleared up the terminology there for you.

So, perhaps just have a double check next time you feel the instinct to use that term ‘slipped disc’.

It is actually more correct to say – if you have a clinically diagnosed and imaged disc issue – that it’s perhaps a disc swelling or a disc bulge but it hasn’t slipped anywhere.

Alright guys I hope that’s useful for you. I’ll speak to you next time. Bye!


Other Resources