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 also allow for greater stability and mobility of the spine.
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. More men than women are afflicted with a slipped disc.
A herniated disc is most commonly caused by a progressive wear-and-tear condition 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.
Symptoms vary depending on the location of the herniated disc, and typically affect only one side of the body. They include:
In some cases, a herniated disc can show no symptoms, and is simply incidentally detected during a spinal imaging.
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.
The most suitable 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.
Dr Chua Soo Yong of Atlas Orthopaedic Group is a