You’ve probably heard the common medical term, “a slipped disc,” but what exactly does that mean? A slipped disc, or more precisely “spondylolisthesis,” is a condition in which one of the vertebrae – the bones in the spinal column – becomes displaced and moves forward or backward in relation to its proper position. This malpositioning can put pressure on the spinal cord and on the nerves that emanate from the spinal column at the position of the slipped disc. The most common cause of spondylolisthesis is degenerative changes in the joints and cartilage of the vertebrae due to aging.. Spondylolisthesis can also result from trauma – a sports injury or an accident, for example.
The most frequent symptom of a lumbar slipped disc is lower back pain. The pain is typically worse after exercise. Decreased range of motion and tightness of the hamstring muscles are also common slipped disc symptoms. The nerve compression may also result in pain, numbness, tingling or weakness in the legs, and in cases of severe compression, loss of bowel or bladder control. Slipped disc can also be associated with spinal stenosis, one of most common spinal problems, characterized by a narrowing of the spinal canal. A physician specializing in spinal disorders can diagnose spondylolisthesis using radiographs and X-ray imaging. The severity of the slipped disc is graded on a scale based on the degree of slippage from its normal position. After the diagnosis, a physician can recommend appropriate treatments for spondylolisthesis.
Treatments for slipped disc include physical therapy, exercises for relieving pressure on the affected spinal nerves, medication, and injections. In many patients these treatments are sufficient to alleviate the symptoms of slipped disc. For patients with moderate to severe spondylolisthesis or attendant spinal stenosis who do not respond to conservative therapies, spinal decompression surgery may be recommended. Spinal decompression involves removing portions of the vertebrae that impinge on the spinal cord and nerve roots. Spinal decompression can have a dramatic affect, relieving pain and other symptoms caused by the slipped disc and spinal stenosis. However, removing portions of the vertebrae reduces the stability of the spinal column. Traditionally spinal fusion back surgery is performed after spinal decompression; screws and rods are implanted to permanently join adjacent vertebrae and restore spinal stability. One drawback is that spinal fusion eliminates the natural independent motion that gives the spine its flexibility. Fusion has also been shown to promote deterioration of adjacent vertebrae.
Now there is an alternative to spinal fusion, the TOPS™ System, developed here at Premia Spine. The TOPS System restores stability while preserving the spine’s full range of motion after decompression and has been clinically shown to provide better outcomes than spinal fusion surgery in trials conducted around the world.
We encourage anyone afflicted with back problems to consult a physician who specializes in spinal disorders, and to learn about all treatment options.