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Slipping a Disc is Not a Thing

Hand on lower back with red circle illustrations

In keeping with this month’s theme of busting top physical therapy myths, today we’re going to discuss a common idiom that is responsible for a common misconception: slipping a disc.

The truth is, you can’t slip a disc. Your spine is made up of discs, but there isn’t a physical way for them to pop out.

Here’s what’s actually going on:

What are discs?

Your spine has 33 bones called vertebrae, and between each one is the saucer-shaped fibrocartilage known as the vertebral disc. Their main purpose is shock absorption.

If they don’t slip, what happens?

A more accurate word for a slipped disc is a “hernia,” since that’s exactly what happens. A herniation usually occurs when something forces the gel-like substance of the disc to protrude out. It’s not pushed out completely like the word “slip” would imply, but is instead bulging in one direction. This can lead to undue pressure being placed on nerves, which is one of the reasons why it can be so painful.

How do they occur?

Injury is usually the culprit, but there are other things that can cause disc herniation. If certain muscle groups are too weak, this can put undue pressure on the spine, causing the disc to poke out. Other factors include poor posture, excessive weight or poor lifting techniques.

What do I do if this happens?

Physical therapy to target certain muscle groups is key to relieving disc herniation. It usually takes four to six weeks to relieve. In extreme cases, you may need surgery, but we recommend trying PT first, as it’s usually safer!

How do I prevent it?

Don’t skip leg day at the gym! Strengthening the muscles in your legs, abdomen and back can all help prevent disc herniation. It’s also good to maintain a healthy weight and to use proper lifting techniques.

Core PT is here for you every step of the way in your health journey. Make an appointment with one of our therapists today and learn how you can prevent injury or treat the pain you already have.

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