Information for the public
If the tough outer cover of a disc that acts as a cushion between 2 bones in the lower part of spine (the lumbar vertebrae) tears, the soft centre can bulge through the tear. This is a slipped (herniated or prolapsed) disc. If it presses on a nerve, the slipped disc can cause pain in the back or legs, numbness or weakness in the legs, or even problems with the bladder.
Treatments include painkillers, drugs to reduce inflammation, corticosteroid injections into the affected area and physical therapy. If the symptoms are severe or long lasting, the bulging material may be removed, either by open surgery or using minimally invasive techniques. This is called discectomy. But usually nothing is done to repair the tear. So, over time, more of the soft centre may bulge through, leading to recurring symptoms and loss of disc height.
NICE has looked at inserting an annular disc implant after discectomy in the lower spine as a treatment option to close the tear.
NHS Choices (www.nhs.uk) may be a good place to find out more.