If you haven’t ever experienced back pain before and you put your back out, often the first thing you might worry about is whether you have ‘slipped a disc’.

You might be surprised to learn that discs don’t slip out of place or indeed move significantly at all. The technical term for a issue affecting the disc a ‘prolapse’ and this is where the edge of the disc bulges slightly.

You might be even more surprised to learn that many people already have disc prolapses but have no idea because this does not always cause pain. In fact, MRI findings have shown that 64% of the general population has a disc bulge without any symptoms. If you break this down into age groups, 40% of people in their 30s, 50% of people in their 40s and 60% of people with no pain or symptoms in their 50s have a disc bulge.

That said, some disc bulges do cause pain, especially if the bulge presses on a nearby nerve. This condition causes pins and needles, numbness or pain which travels down one of your legs. Painful disc prolapses tend to follow a very specific pattern of symptoms. Sitting tends to be the worst position, whereas gentle walking tends to ease symptoms. This is because your discs are compressed more when you are sitting and a lot less in standing or walking. Lifting, bending forwards, and coughing or sneezing also tends to aggravate symptoms. You may also find that your pain is worse first thing in the morning as soon as you wake up. If your pain is at its worst in standing or walking and better in sitting then a disc prolapse is unlikely to be the underlying cause of your back pain.

So what can you do to help? Most importantly you need to keep active. Don’t be tempted to spend all day lying in bed, this will actually make it worse in the longer term. Regular gentle movement is the best thing for most back pain, including a disc prolapse. Try to avoid activities which significantly increase your symptoms, but otherwise continue with your normal daily activities as best you can.

Anti-inflammatories or muscle relaxants may help managge your pain and allow you to move more normally. Speak to your GP or a pharmacist if you are in any doubt about what medication would be best for you. Heat can also help – try using a hot water bottle or wheat bag placed on your lower back area for 15 – 20 mins.

Try to avoid sitting on low chairs. Walking or gentle movement while standing will help to ease your symptoms. You obviously can’t spend the entire day standing up however, so if you need to sit try to perch on the edge of something a bit taller such as a bar stool. If you do not have access to anything like this you could sit on the edge of a sturdy table or place some extra cushions on top of a normal chair. You can also try rolling up a towel and placing this in the small of your back to provide more support from the chair. A dining chair is better to sit on than a squishy sofa.

Two great exercises for disc prolapse

  1. Cat stretch

Start on your hands and knees. Your hands should be under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Gently arch your back up towards the ceiling then reverse and lower your back down towards the floor. Start off with a small movement and gradually increase the range without pushing through pain. Repeat this movement 5 – 10 times.

  1. Back twist

Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and arms out to the side in a cross. Allow your knees to roll to one side and turn your head the opposite way. Then go back to the start position and do exactly the same on the other side.

If you experience any loss of control in your bowel or your bladder (either being unable to tell that you have voided or being unable to empty your bladder), numbness round your groin, inner thighs or buttocks or a loss of control of movement in one or both legs, then you need emergeny medical attention and should go straight to A&E.

If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.