Slipped (Herniated) Disk

Slipped disk is a condition in which a disk in the spinal column moves out of its correct position in the spine and presses on the spinal nerves, causing pain and sometimes muscle weakness.

What Is Slipped Disk?

Healthy disk between vertebrae (bottom) compared to slipped disk pressing on spinal nerve (middle).

Healthy disk between vertebrae (bottom) compared to slipped disk pressing on spinal nerve (middle).
Illustration by Frank Forney. © 2016 Cengage Learning®.

The correct posture when carrying loads, lifting, or wearing a backpack can prevent back injuries.

The correct posture when carrying loads, lifting, or wearing a backpack can prevent back injuries.
Illustration by Frank Forney. © 2016 Cengage Learning®.

Most slipped disks occur in the lower back. However, slipped disks can occur in any part of the spine, including the neck.

What Causes Slipped Disk?

In most cases, the condition develops gradually over a number of years. A person may be totally unaware that anything is wrong until the disk begins to cause pain. There are a small number of cases of slipped disk that occur in people who have made a sudden difficult movement, such as lifting a heavy object, or a sudden awkward movement. Slipped disks can also be the result of normal wear and tear on the disks due to aging.

How Common Is Slipped Disk?

Slipped disk is a fairly common. It happens mainly to people between the ages of 30 and 40. However, it can occur in younger people and even in children. After the age of 40, disks become more stable because extra tissue forms around them. Between the ages of 30 to 40, disks tend to lose fluid and become less resistant to pressures put on them. Slipped disk is more common in men than in women. People of either sex, however, who sit for long periods of time are more susceptible to the condition.

How Do Doctors Diagnose Slipped Disk?

Individuals suffering from severe, sudden back pain should be evaluated by a physician to determine whether they have a slipped disk, particularly if there is muscular weakness, or pain and numbness in the legs or feet. The doctor administers nerve-reflex and muscle-strength tests after taking a medical history of the patient.

Among the tests used to locate and confirm a diagnosis, x-rays and other imaging tests may be performed. A test called an electromyogram (e-LEKtro-MY-o-gram) can measure the amount of electrical activity in the muscles and help determine how much muscle or nerve damage the patient has.

How Do Doctors Treat Slipped Disk?

Total bed rest used to be prescribed for two weeks. Doctors later came to believe that this much bed rest does not help, and patients may be told to stay in bed two to three days. Medications are given to help relax muscle spasms and to relieve pain. After their initial symptoms have improved, patients are given certain exercises to strengthen the muscles of the back and abdomen, and they are told to avoid twisting the spine. Lifting should be done by bending the knees first and keeping the spine upright. Most patients recover within three months.

However, if these treatments are not successful, surgery may be necessary. Disk surgery involves removing a part of the disk that has slipped against a nerve. Exercise, weight management, and lifestyle changes are recommended following surgery to avoid a recurrence of the injury.

See also Aging • Pain • Sciatica


Books and Articles

Newman, Tim. “Herniated Disk: Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment.” Medical News Today, March 9, 2016. (accessed July 10, 2016).


Emory Healthcare. “Herniated Disc/Slipped Disc/Sciatica.” . (accessed July 10, 2016).

MedlinePlus “Herniated Disk.” U.S. National Library of Medicine. (accessed July 10, 2016).

NHS Choices. “Slipped Disc.” (accessed July 10, 2016).

Windsor, Robert E. “Lumbosacral Disc Injuries.” Medscape (updated October 12, 2015). (accessed July 10, 2015).


American Chiropractic Association. 1701 Clarendon Blvd., Suite 200, Arlington, VA 22209. Telephone: 703-276-8800. Website: (accessed July 10, 2016).

International Chiropractors Association. 6400 Arlington Blvd., Suite 800, Falls Church, VA 22042. Toll-free: 800-423-4690. Website: (accessed July 10, 2016).

Spine Health. 790 Estate Dr., Deerfield, IL 60015. Telephone: 847-607-8577. Website: (accessed July 10, 2016).

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.