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Herniated/Slipped Disc

Herniated Disc (Slipped Disc)

A herniated disc, sometimes referred to as a slipped disc, is a common cause of back pain. Here are the main things you need to know about herniated discs, including their causes, symptoms, and treatment.

Medically reviewed by Dr Chua Soo Yong ,
Consultant Orthopaedic & Spine Surgeon
MBBS (S’pore), MRCS (Edinburgh), MMed (Ortho),FRCS (Ortho), FAMS (Ortho)

What is a Herniated Disc (Slipped Disc)?

The spine is composed of a set of individual bones called the vertebrae, each one stacked on top of each other and separated by an intervertebral disc. These discs serve as cushions or shock absorbers between bones and allow for greater spine stability and mobility.

A herniated disc, also known as a slipped disc, occurs when a disc’s jelly-like core (nucleus pulposus) pushes against and bulges out a weakness in the disc’s outer ring (annulus fibrosus). This causes pain and nerve compression, leading to weakness and numbness that extends to the arms or legs. Men are more likely than women to develop a slipped disc.

What Causes a Herniated Disc (Slipped Disc)?

A herniated disc is usually caused by progressive wear-and-tear known as disc degeneration. With age, these spinal discs naturally lose their water content, making them less flexible and prone to injury and herniation. An injury, sudden twisting or jerking movements, lifting heavy objects and placing excessive pressure on the spine may also contribute to a slipped disc.

What are the Risk Factors of a Herniated Disc?

Several factors can increase the risk of developing a herniated disc, such as:

  • Occupation – Physically demanding jobs that require repetitive heavy lifting, pulling, or bending.
  • Weight – Excess weight puts more pressure on the discs of thelower back.
  • Smoking – Smoking reduces the amount of oxygen supply to the discs, placing them at a higher risk of degeneration.
  • Frequent Driving – Sitting for long periods, coupled with the bumpy motions of the vehicle for hours on end, can add pressure to the spine.
  • Inactive Lifestyle – Regular exercise is crucial to maintaining overall back health and reducing the risk of back problems.

What are the Symptoms of a Herniated Disc?

The symptoms vary depending on the location of the herniated disc and typically affect only one side of the body.

Herniated or Slipped Disc in the Back (Herniated Lumbar Disc)

  • Sharp pain that starts on the lower back and extends down to the buttocks, thigh, calf, and foot
  • Tingling or numbness in the legs and/or feet
  • Muscle weakness causing difficulties in walking, lifting, or holding items

Herniated or Slipped Disc in the Neck (Herniated Cervical Disc)

  • Pain radiating to the shoulder and arm, and sometimes the hand and fingers
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms
  • Neck pain, particularly in the back and sides of the neck
  • Increasing pain when bending or twisting the neck

In serious cases, a slipped disc can cause compression in the nerves responsible for bladder and bowel control, causing faecal and urinary incontinence. However, there are also cases where a herniated disc does not present any symptoms and is simply incidentally detected during spinal imaging.

When to Seek Medical Care?

It is recommended to consult a specialist if the symptoms of back pain persist after 4 to 6 weeks and start to interfere with daily activities. However, more serious symptoms such as loss of movement, numbness, weakness, and loss of bowel or bladder control will require immediate medical attention.

Seek prompt medical care from a spine specialist if symptoms persist, or affect your quality of life.

Make an appointment with Dr Chua Soo Yong at 6262 0555 today.

How is a Herniated Disc Diagnosed?

A physical exam will involve asking the patient to perform certain movements to determine the location, nature and severity of the pain.

Nerve tests may also be done to determine how fast electrical nerve impulses travel through the nerve, and how the muscle responds to electrical activity while active and at rest. This can determine whether there is nerve compression or damage.

Imaging tests may also be required to clearly visualise the spine, including X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans and myelograms.

How are Herniated Discs Treated?

Depending on the severity of the symptoms, slipped disc treatment in Singapore ranges from lifestyle modifications to herniated disc surgery. An orthopaedic surgeon may recommend the following conservative and surgical treatments:

Diet and lifestyle modifications

Maintaining a healthy weight avoids adding stress on the spine. Exercises can help strengthen the bones and make them more flexible.


Over-the-counter pain relievers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be taken to relieve mild to moderate pain. In more serious cases, the doctor may prescribe steroid injections.


Certain exercises can help strengthen and increase the mobility and flexibility of the spine; as well as manage chronic pain.

Herniated Disc Surgery

If symptoms do not improve or are already severe, slipped disc treatment in Singapore may require surgery. The most common herniated disc surgery is microdiscectomy, which involves the removal of the protruding part of the disc. Rarely, the entire disc is removed and replaced with an artificial one, or the bones fused.

The most appropriate herniated or slipped disc treatment in Singapore will be determined by the orthopaedic surgeon, who will assess each patient on a case-by-case basis.

Find answers to commonly asked questions here

Untreated herniated discs can cause chronic pain and nerve damage, which in serious cases can lead to faecal and urinary incontinence, loss of movement, or paralysis.

Reduce the amount of stress placed on the back by avoiding sitting for long periods, performing repetitive forward-lounging motions, such as doing the laundry or vacuuming, bending over and squatting, and high-impact activities such as running.

Not all herniated discs require surgery. Generally, specialists may start off with conservative treatments first. However, if the symptoms persist, or were already serious, surgery may be required.

Dr Chua Soo Yong
Consultant Orthopaedic & Spine Surgeon
MBBS (S’pore), MRCS (Edinburgh), MMed (Ortho), FRCS (Ortho), FAMS (Ortho)

Dr Chua is an Orthopaedic and Spine Surgeon with over 10 years of specialist experience treating back and neck issues. Dr Chua is skilled in all aspects of spinal surgery using both open and minimally invasive techniques, routinely performing procedures like decompression, instrumented fusion, and disc replacement surgery. Furthermore, his expertise is particularly sought after in complex spinal surgery. Aside from performing surgeries, his expertise in spine conditions also extends to involvement in research on spinal cord injury and regeneration and he has published several articles in international spine journals.

Make an appointment with our specialist, Dr Chua Soo Yong, at 6262 0555 today.
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Atlas Spine & Orthopaedic Surgery Centre provides subspecialty back and spine treatments tailored to each patient’s needs. For a detailed consultation, make an appointment with us at 6262 0555 today.