Slipped disc and sciatica

Dr Mark Porter / 02 January 2017

Dr Porter advises a reader whose slipped disc led to sciatica.

Q: I slipped a disc in my back while changing the wheel on my car and now have sciatica in my right leg. My GP is reluctant to say how long it will before I get better. Any ideas?

 A: As many as 1 in 20 people develop back and leg pain (sciatica) from a slipped disc at some stage during their life, with most cases occurring in young and middle-aged men. The discs are found between every vertebra where they act as shock-absorbing spacers that allow the spine to twist and flex. They are subject to considerable mechanical forces, particularly in the lower back, and it is these lumbar discs that typically cause trouble.

The term slipped disc is a misnomer. The circular discs never actually move, but a weakness in their tough outer wall allows the softer jelly-like centre to bulge out, or in some cases burst through and press on the nerves supplying the leg.

As a general rule around three-quarters of prolapsed discs will settle, or start to settle within the first six weeks. Painkillers are the mainstay of treatment and while taking it easy may help in the short-term, bed rest should be avoided if possible.

Tell your doctor if you notice any pins and needles, numbness or weakness. Persistent or severe cases may require surgery, but this is a last resort.

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