Definition: Disc Prolapse (Slipped Disc)

A Prolapsed or Herniated Disc comes about when extra pressure is put on the intervertebral discs so they become compressed and damaged, forcing the internal pulp of the disc away from the centre, to bulge out through the fibrous exterior. This is particularly true if the pressure put onto the discs is uneven. In severe cases, the disc's fibrous wall breaks, so that the pulp is squeezed through it to press on nerves leaving the spinal cord. Predominantly, this happens to the two discs just above the sacrum, leading to the sometimes agonising pain of sciatica.

Most people have slipped discs in the lumbar region of the spine, so they experience lumbago and lower back pain which is sometimes severe and disabling. Roughly 95 percent of cases of disc prolapse are in the lower back, with about 5 percent of injuries occurring elsewhere in the spine, mainly the neck, or cervical region

Symptoms

The symptoms of disc prolapse are lower back pain and, in the case of sciatica, pain that runs down the back of the legs. There may also be tingling, numbness and weakness, indicating some damage to the nerves, which needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

Causes

Disc prolapse can be caused by accidents and lifting heavy objects, or from over-exertion and habitual mis-use such as bending down in ways that compress and mis-align the spine. A typical habit that causes problems, is to curl down and contract the spine whilst bending over and/or lifting. This makes the muscles work unevenly and compresses the intervertebral discs, often at an odd angle. However, it is possible to inhibit such habits of mis-use and to learn an improved manner of use which protects the spine and puts less pressure on the discs. In this way you learn to bend the knees and fold at the hip joints whilst bending forwards or squatting, all the time giving yourself directions to freely expend into the movement. This allows the spinal column to remain lengthened and resilient and your body can function in the way it is designed to.

Sudden movements or the spasms created by coughing and sneezing, for instance, can also irritate the nerves and cause pain. If you have this problem then bending your knees when you cough can protect your back but it is only part of the answer.

Treatment

Whilst rest, surgery and treatment such as physiotherapy and gentle exercise may help the condition, there will be no long term improvement for most people, unless they change the way they use their bodies. Dr Wilfred Barlow states: 'My own experience, quite categorically, is that most forms of back pain, even after there has been successful surgery, are best treated by making USE re-education a prime necessity.' Wilfred Barlow MD ~ p105 ~The Alexander Principle

Many people have found that by learning the Alexander Technique, they can begin to use their bodies in a more aligned and aware manner and gain a tool that helps them not only heal their back pain but stops them falling back into the old habits that contributed to the disc damage in the first place. Also, the use of the lying down procedure is a more powerful tool that helps heal the back, than merely lying down and resting. I have known Alexander Technique pupils, that had been hospitalised, come off all pain killers after having just a few Alexander lessons. Over time they have learnt to avoid moving in ways that cause problems, freeing themselves from pain and managing to go back to work or have another baby when, before having lessons, they thought it was not possible to do so.

Go to the main Glossary index

If you are interested in finding out more about my Alexander Technique lessons and workshops, please contact me via my enquiry form.