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Slipped Disk

A slipped disk (also known as a ruptured or herniated disk) is a sudden or gradual break in the support ligaments surrounding a spinal disk, which is a cushion separating bony spinal vertebrae. A slipped disk is caused by the weakening and rupture of the disk material, which in turn creates pressure on nearby spinal nerves.

Rupture of the disk is caused by sudden injury or chronic stress, such as from constant lifting or obesity. Disks of the neck or lower spine are the most common sites, especially between the 4th and 5th lumbar vertebrae (almost at the very end of the spine just above the sacrum). The term "slipped" is really a misnomer, since the disk actually bulges (herniates) from between two vertebrae and may eventually rupture.

Pain is caused by pressure on nerve roots if a displaced disk presses on a spinal nerve. This can send shooting pains to the legs or arms, or create a tingling or sensation of numbness in them. A common condition affecting the sciatic nerve, known as sciatica, causes pain along the back of the hip and outer side of the leg.

Signs and symptoms of a slipped disk include severe pain in the low back or in the back of one leg, buttock or foot (pain usually affects one side and worsens with movement, coughing, sneezing, lifting or straining); weakness, numbness or muscular wasting of the affected leg; pain in the neck, shoulder or down one arm (pain worsens with movement); weakness, numbness or muscular wasting of the affected arm.

Treatment for an individual suffering a slipped disk calls for seeking immediate medical attention, not moving that person at all unless his or her life is at risk, and keeping the person warm with blankets to decrease the possibility of shock. Although bed rest for at least two weeks should alleviate most symptoms and pain, traction or surgery may be necessary.


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