The disks are soft padding between the vertebrae, allowing the spinal column to flex or bend while also absorbing shock. The outer ring of the disk is made of cartilage and is called the annulus. The center is a gel-like substance called the nucleus. A disk herniates when part of the nucleus pushes the annulus out into the spinal canal, compressing the spinal cord. A herniated disk (a.k.a.- ruptured or slipped disk) can be caused by improper lifting, bad posture, sudden pressure, and/or wear-and-tear.
The most common symptom is sciatica (sharp, shooting pain extending from the buttocks down the back of a leg) caused by compression of the spinal cord. You may also have weakness, tingling or numbness in one leg, loss of bowel/bladder control, and/or burning pain centered in the back.
Treatment includes: bed rest, pain relief and anti-inflammatory medications, and/or cold compresses. Physical activity should be limited to walking, but the patient should avoid sitting for long periods of time. Epidural injection of a cortisone-line drug may alleviate nerve irritation. In certain patients, injections with chymopapain are used to dissolve some of the disk so that it does not compress the spinal cord. Surgery may be necessary if a fragment of the disk lodges in the canal and further compresses the cord. The most common procedure is a laminectomy, which removes a portion of the vertebral bone.