Private slipped disc treatment

While it's possible to live with a slipped disc and not realise it, many people experience painful and uncomfortable symptoms. We can quickly diagnose a slipped disc and effectively treat the pain and symptoms that are holding you back. 

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At HCA UK we offer:

  • Leading imaging technology to diagnose your symptoms 
  • Specialist spinal consultants providing the various treatments for slipped discs
  • Orthopaedic care that has been rated ‘very good’ or excellent by 97% of our patients

What are spinal discs?

The human body contains 23 discs between each of the vertebrae in the spine. The tough outer part called the annulus fibrosus is made of collagen fibres. This sits around a softer core, known as the nucleus pulposus. The gel-like core aids the spine's mobility while also acting as a shock absorber – for example, taking some of the impact away from when we jump or run. Discs are primarily composed of water, so hydration is key to them functioning properly and remaining healthy.

Discs are categorised as sitting between the vertebrae, which are assigned letters and numbers depending on where in the spine they are. For example, the fourth vertebra in the lumbar spine would be L4; the disc between it and the fifth lumbar vertebra would be referred to as the L4-L5 disc.

The vertebrae and discs in the spine are categorised by their location:

  • Cervical spine: The first seven vertebrae, which are in the neck
  • Thoracic spine: A group of 12 vertebrae that sit in the chest area
  • Lumbar spine: Five vertebrae in your lower back. This is where it's most common to experience a slipped disc. 
  • Sacral spine: Five vertebrae that are found below the waist. The tailbone (coccyx) is located here.

What is a slipped disc?

The discs in the spine typically begin to degenerate at a surprisingly early age in many people. It's not uncommon for this process to begin in our 20s. The tough outer part of the disc is most affected by degeneration. It loses its elasticity and strength, so it can bulge or even tear when put under strain.

This process may go completely unnoticed in some people, but if the slipped disc presses on a nerve in the spine, it's likely to cause pain in the back and legs among other symptoms. Types of slipped disc include:

  • Bulging disc: Whether through degeneration or an impact through the spine, the annulus fibrosis may be compressed and swell - akin to squeezing a balloon. If this movement interferes with the nerves in your spine, symptoms will likely be felt. The vast majority of cases involving bulging discs will self-heal with a period of modified activity.
  • Herniated disc: Also referred to as a prolapsed disc, this condition involves the tough outer wall of the disc being torn and the gel-like core leaking into the spinal canal and interfering with the spinal nerves. Surgery may be required to remove the protruding part of the disc, but many people with this condition are also treated non-surgically. 

The symptoms of a slipped disc may also be referred to as sciatica when it presses on nerves in the lower back and causes leg pain.

What causes a slipped disc?

Discs degenerate naturally throughout our lifetimes and it's extremely unlikely that anyone approaching their 50s or 60s will not have some kind of wear and tear to their discs – whether they experience symptoms or not. Some factors that may lead to an increased risk of a slipped disc, or more intense symptoms, include:

  • Excess weight: Putting excess strain on your joints and through your spine increases the pressure on your discs and can make them more liable to bulging or tearing. A poor diet may also accelerate the natural breakdown of the discs. 
  • Poor posture: Those who sit for long periods, such as office workers, may be at higher risk of a slipped disc if they do not use ergonomic equipment like chairs with lumbar support as this can regularly interrupt spine's natural curve
  • Heavy lifting: Straining the muscles in your back to lift heavy items can cause the discs to bulge and potentially rupture if you're not able to properly lift the weight or do so using poor technique that overloads your spine.
  • Trauma: A sudden impact that affects your spine may cause excessive twisting or jolting that can rupture the discs or make them inflamed.

Symptoms of a slipped disc

Back care

What are the symptoms of a slipped disc?

Not every slipped disc causes symptoms. In fact, many people discover they have one after having an MRI scan for an unrelated reason. Most herniated discs occur in your lower back (lumbar spine), although they can also occur in your neck (cervical spine) and middle back (thoracic spine). 

When should I see a specialist for slipped disc treatment?

If a period of rest and conservative treatment has not provided slipped disc relief, our spinal consultants can diagnose your condition – whether it is, in fact, a herniated disc or another issue – and suggest a course of treatment to help you.

Unexplainable tingling and pain in your arms or legs could be a sign of a herniated disc that requires treatment, as can a struggle to stand or walk. Other signs that you might seek help for include a loss of bladder or bowel control; in rare cases, this can be caused by a slipped disc.

Back pain can be caused by a slipped disc. In cases of immobility or severe back pain, emergency treatment at A&E will be the first point of medical help.

If you experience a numb feeling in your genitals, weakness in both legs and loss of bladder and bowel control, you should call 999 or go to A&E right away. These are signs of a rare but serious condition known as cauda equina syndrome. This occurs when the nerves in your lower back become suddenly and severely compressed, requiring emergency treatment. 

Slipped disc diagnosis

A consultant will go through your medical history to check for contributing factors such as ageing, exercise regime, smoking, obesity and heavy lifting. They'll also conduct a physical examination, in which your spine will be gently manipulated into different positions and you'll be asked to report how it feels. 

Tests such as X-rays, CT scans and MRI scans can help to rule out other conditions as well as pinpoint the affected disc.

A discography may also be recommended to ascertain any damage that you have done to your discs. This involves injecting a dye, visible under X-ray, into your disc to see if and how it moves. If you require a discography, you'll be sedated during it.

Slipped disc treatment

Non-surgical slipped disc treatment

The vast majority of people with a slipped disc can treat their symptoms with very minor medical intervention – sometimes even none at all.

  • Modify activity: A slipped disc is not a condition that you should "play through the pain" with; this is likely to only exacerbate symptoms and potentially lead to further complications. Stopping any activities that cause symptoms and a period of rest is often all that's needed as a cure for a slipped disc. Gradually increasing your activity afterwards is typically achievable and regularly walking is a great starting point.
  • Physiotherapy: A programme of exercises can help strengthen your back muscles or relieve tension in the affected area and ease the pressure on your disc and nerves. Increased blood flow to the area as a result of physiotherapy exercises may also promote recovery and healing.
  • Pain medication: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen may help to combat some of the swelling that can cause the symptoms of a herniated disc.
  • Steroid treatment: Injections of steroids can act as an anti-inflammatory and may help to relieve the pressure put on the nerves in your spine.

Surgical slipped disc treatment

If your herniated disc becomes very painful and does not respond to non-operative treatment, you may need surgery. In most cases, a portion of the disc is removed with a procedure called a discectomy. Surgery to treat a slipped disc typically involves at least one of the following procedures:

  • Laminotomy/Laminectomy: A section of bone is removed from the back of your vertebrae to relieve pressure on the affected nerve
  • Discectomy: A section of the slipped disc is removed to relieve pressure on a nerve
  • Spinal fusion: Two or more vertebrae are fused together to stabilise and strengthen the spine

When a discectomy is performed in the neck, it's almost always accompanied by the insertion of a cage or artificial disc replacement. In both the neck and lower back, additional metalwork may need to be inserted to give greater stability. Surgery to repair a slipped disc can be done via endoscopy (keyhole surgery), with a small incision made in your back to allow a small camera and specialised surgical equipment to access the affected area. 

We were the first private hospital group in the UK to offer endoscopic spinal surgery. Benefits of keyhole spinal surgery include reduced pain and quicker recovery times.

If you choose to undergo any form of disc surgery, you'll be recommended a bespoke programme of post-operative physiotherapy exercises to restore motion in your spine and relieve stiffness.

How to prevent a slipped disc

  • Correct posture: Slouched positions and regularly bending over move your spine out of its natural curvature and place added strain on your discs. Whether sitting, sleeping, exercising or performing work tasks, proper posture can boost your chances of keeping herniated discs and associated symptoms at bay.
  • Optimal hydration: As the discs contain an incredibly high water content, they're liable to degenerate quicker if your body is not properly hydrated. If you're dehydrated, the discs shrink and bring your vertebrae closer together. This process, known as desiccation, increases your risk of suffering symptoms such as pain caused by pinched nerves.
  • Healthy lifestyle: Regularly exercising keeps your core muscles strong, supporting your spine and helping maintain correct posture. Smoking can quicken the deterioration of your discs, so cutting this out can help. Maintaining a healthy weight for your height and body shape also prevents extra pressure from being put on your joints and spine.
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How to book an appointment for a slipped disc diagnosis

If you're experiencing the symptoms of a disc injury, it's quick and simple to book a consultation with us.

  1. Fill in our online form or call us and let us know your details.
  2. If you've been referred by a GP or physio, keep any letters to hand. They may include useful information that can help us put you in touch with a specific consultant.
  3. We'll either confirm an appointment with you immediately or we'll be back in touch within 24 hours with a time and date that works for you.

Slipped disc diagnosis and treatment FAQs

Symptoms of a slipped disc can present in different ways. For example, pain may be felt as a dull ache in the affected area or 'shoot' down the legs or arms as the nerve is pressed on. Numbness and tingling in the extremities may present alongside weakness in your hands or legs.
Putting a slipped disc 'back in place' does not accurately reflect the process of treating this condition. Simply pushing the herniated nucleus and annulus between the vertebrae would do little to improve your condition and could even make symptoms worse by leading to further imbalance in the affected area of the spine.  Surgical treatment involves a section of the disc being removed.   

Exercises that involve exaggerating the curvature of the spine can provide relief from the symptoms of a slipped disc. A physiotherapist can advise on the best exercises to help your condition.

  • Back extensions: Place your hands on your lower back and push this area and your pelvis forward. You should feel a stretch in your mid-back.
  • Cobra pose: Lay face down on a yoga mat with your palms flat on the ground in line with your shoulders. Push upwards until your arms are straight and gently tilt your head backwards.
  • Spinal decompression: This can be achieved by bending face-down over the edge of a bench or bed with your pelvis supported or by hanging from a pull-up bar (optionally using a stool or bench to provide support to your feet and pelvis). These motions provide a stretching sensation through your spine and pressure is relieved from the discs.

You should stop any of these exercises if they cause you discomfort. Walking is another simple way of relieving slipped disc pain as it promotes good posture and works your muscles in a non-strenuous way.

Without any medical intervention, many people see symptoms of a slipped disc ease within six weeks given a period of rest and modified activity. An exact time frame will depend on many factors such as the severity of your herniated disc, any underlying health conditions, and your lifestyle.

Recovery times following surgery for a slipped disc also vary. People who undergo endoscopic procedures can often go home the same day as their procedure and typically recover within a few weeks. 

Those who have open surgery tend to remain in hospital for 1-2 days after the operation and face slightly longer recovery times as the surgery site and affected area heal.

Most people who have a slipped disc will either feel no symptoms at all or notice symptoms easing with little to no medical help. Many people simply won't know when they have a slipped disc, as long as it's not interfering with the nerves in the spinal column.

In cases of persistent and severe symptoms of a slipped disc, you should seek diagnosis and treatment from a specialist, such as the spinal consultants at HCA UK.

While asymptomatic people should be able to walk perfectly fine with a slipped disc, one of the most common symptoms for people who do experience them is pain and discomfort in the back and legs. Both can make walking uncomfortable or difficult to begin with.

Depending on the type of surgery and the nature of your work, you may be able to return to work in just a few weeks or it may take several months to return to full duties.

Those who undergo keyhole surgery and work in sedentary settings such as an office will face the shortest timescales. But if open surgery is involved or you work in a labour-intensive industry, it may take much longer to get back to your everyday activities.

Driving or riding in a car can often exacerbate symptoms of a slipped disc due to the position you have to remain in, sometimes for long periods. If you're having conservative treatment for a slipped disc, you may be recommended to alter how much you drive or take car journeys as you recover.

If you have surgery to repair a slipped disc, you won't be able to drive for a period after the operation to give your body sufficient time to heal. Your consultant will be able to advise you on when it may be suitable for you to drive again.

Why choose HCA UK

Why choose HCA UK for slipped disc treatment?

  • Swift appointments: Request a consultation with us and we'll confirm your appointment within 24 hours.
  • Leading reputation: We have a larger proportion of top ratings from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) than any other UK private hospital group.
  • Satisfied patients: Our 2022 patient survey found that 96% of people would recommend HCA UK to their family or friends for orthopaedic care.  
  • Specialists in your condition: Your consultant will be a specialist in slipped disc diagnosis and treatment. 
How to book an appointment

How to book an appointment with a slipped disc specialist

Bulging, herniated and prolapsed discs are common conditions and there are a range of treatment options to help you live pain-free and without restriction. Get in touch with us today to book a consultation. We'll match you with an expert in slipped disc treatment and can also talk you through your payment options. 

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.