Recently one of my patients said their friend had slipped a disc – there was no formal diagnosis – just they heard and felt something pop in their back. The truth is discs will never slip! Poor education to many health practitioners in the past has meant that they have in turn poorly educated their patients about what’s actually going on with their backs.
People often misconceive that their discs are free floating in the back and can easily move like a Frisbee. Really we shouldn’t even call them discs – calling them ‘living adaptive force transducers’ (LAFT’s) would be a much more accurate description of them.
LAFT’s blend into the spinal bones above and below them and are super strong – it’s really difficult to actually damage them and there is no way they can slip out of place. Their job is to help transfer load across and along the spine and act like a pneumatic cushion which allows us to bend and move in lots of different directions.
The mere wording ‘slipped disc’ gives rise to connotations of discs popping out of place and sliding to places where they shouldn’t be, one patient even once told me they thought that it must have slipped down into their leg as their pain had travelled down the leg. These strong adjectives can often be enough to stop people moving properly and create a lot of fear and anxiety in people.
Some wear and tear within our body is a perfectly normal process as we get older – you wouldn’t expect a 30 year old car to look as good as it first came off the production line – but it can still work really well. Sometimes we can cause some damage to a LAFT and they can release chemicals that irritate nerves, but there are also lots of other tissues we can also injure or irritate around the back too.
Although very painful and very debilitating, all back pain issues have the potential to get fully better. The majority of people who have back pain can get better and return to a full life of doing everything they wish to.
In the early stages of back pain, keeping moving as much as you are able to within your pain limits is vital to keep the joints and muscles supple and help prevent them getting lazy and weak where they will give you less support and protection for the rest of your back.
An assessment to identify the cause of the problem and to advise you on the best course of action is very sensible. You can then do things that will assist Mother Nature in getting you recovered quicker and know that you are not doing anything that could make things worse. Some treatment to loosen up joints, muscles and help reduce your pain can be very beneficial if you are suffering from back pain.
Most importantly be reassured that your back is super strong and you don’t need to fear it if it gets painful at times in your life.
Robert Grainger MSc MCSP MHPC CSCS
Practice Principal PhysioFixx Physiotherapy Clinic