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Painful backs can be caused by slipped discs, also known as herniated or prolapsed discs. Put simply, they occur when a disc in the spine suffers a rupture and leaks the gel that is contained inside.
Slipped discs will result in back pain and may also cause pain in other areas of the body. This is often because the sciatic nerve has been affected by the slipped disc. The sciatic nerve is, in fact, the longest in the body, running from the pelvis, through the buttock area and down through both legs to the feet. Numbness, tingling in the leg and a long lasting aching sensation are frequently felt when pressure is applied to the sciatic nerve due to a ruptured disc.
The spinal column is made of twenty four individual bones which are known as vertebrae. These stack up on top of each other and in between each one is a circular pad of connective tissue or cartilage, the discs. Inside the fibrous, tough case of each disc is a soft gel which acts to cushion, preventing the vertebrae from rubbing against one another as you move around.
The spinal cord goes through the middle of the spinal column, passing through the centre of each vertebra. Within the spinal cord lies a bundle of nerve fibres that connect the various parts of the body to your brain.
When the tough case of a disc splits, the gel within bulges outwards. This often results in pressure on the entire spinal cord or perhaps on one nerve root. As a result, back pain is often felt, both in the area of the slipped disc itself and the area controlled by the nerve the protruding disc is pressing on.
Age is often the cause of slipped discs because our spinal discs tend to dry a little as we get older. As a result they become less flexible and so are more likely to split or rupture.
Recovery usually takes between four and six weeks. Treatment may consist of exercise and massage and pain relief medication. Usually, the disc shrinks back from the nerve it is pressing on and so the pain eases. If this does not happen within six weeks or so or the back pain is severe, surgery may be considered to release the affected nerve by removing part of the ruptured disc.
It is essential to keep moving if you possibly can when you are suffering from a split or ruptured disc. Movement and exercise will speed up your recovery. Gentle exercise is best and should not place any kind of strain upon your back. Swimming is highly recommended because the water supports your back and joints as you swim.
As always, prevention is better than cure for any back pain, particularly that caused by a slipped disc. Regular exercise helps and good posture when standing or sitting and, most important of all, make sure you lift heavy objects safely without stooping, flexing or twisting the back.