Can a disc really slip?

Ealing Osteopath Osteopathy West London What is a slipped disc?

By Hannah E. Whitcombe

The term ‘slipped disc’ almost implies that the vital structures necessary for holding our bodies in an upright position are flimsy enough to just slip back and forth. This couldn’t be further from the truth! So, what exactly do people mean when they refer to a ‘slipped disc’ and can it simply be manipulated back into place?

Ealing Osteopath Osteopathy West London What Is A Slipped Disc


Intervertebral discs are gel-like structures surrounded by a tough fibrous layer of connective tissue and strategically placed in-between the vertebrae to act as shock absorbers and facilitate movement of the spine.

Over time, the discs loose their shock-absorbing capability and gradually reduce in height due to a lack of fluid within. This leads to small tears within the outer layer (the annulus fibrosus), causing the gel-like inner component (the nucleus polposus) to bulge. Thus, ‘slipped disc’ is actually a misnomer and the terms ‘disc-herniation’ or ‘disc-prolapse’ are more frequently, and certainly more accurately, used.

Herniated Lumbar Disc Ealing Osteopath Osteopathy West London

A disc prolapse tends to bulge towards the posterior-lateral aspect of the joint, pressing on the nerves of the spine causing tingling, numbness, pain or power loss in the arms or legs depending on whether the problem is in the neck or low back.

Standing, sitting, walking, sneezing, coughing and bowel movements can be difficult and on occasion, a severe prolapse can press on the spinal cord causing compression, which requires urgent medical attention. Osteopaths are trained to recognise any of these signs and refer for onward management where appropriate.

A disc herniation may also be caused by trauma or sports-related injury, making it most common in people between the ages of 30-50 with a male to female ratio of almost 2:1! These injuries usually occur at the lower lumbar spine (L4/S1 and L5/S1) and disc herniation above these levels are most commonly seen in persons over the age of 55.

Risk factors

Although anyone can suffer a disc injury, the following increase the probability and should therefore be modified where possible to reduce the risk;

A job involving lots of lifting
A job involving lots of sitting (especially driving)
Weight-bearing sports (weightlifting, etc)
Being overweight (obesity)
Increasing age (a disc is more likely to develop a weakness as we become older)

Osteopathic Management

A disc herniation is usually graded between 1-4 dependant upon the extent of the protrusion and damage to neighbouring structures. However, all disc related injuries will require time to fully heal. A combination of self-management techniques, usually involving specific exercises and stretching regimes, with a course of manual manipulative therapy will achieve the best results.

Rarely, does a disc injury require surgery, however, where protrusions occur frequently or cause debilitating pain and dysfunction, it may be considered. Your osteopath will assess the severity of your condition on an ongoing basis and refer for alternative management where appropriate. 

Osteopathic treatment of a herniated may include;

Direct joint manipulation
Deep tissue massage
Postural adjustments
Dietary and Lifestyle recommendations
Prescriptive exercise plans
Western Medical Acupuncture (dry-needling)
Continual expert assessment

If you would like to speak to a member of our team, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!  You can reach us on 0208 088 0614 or book in for a FREE consultation at



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