Slipped Disk Overview
The disks are protective shock-absorbing pads between the bones of the spine (vertebrae). The disks of the spine are also referred to as intervertebral disks. Although they do not actually “slip,” a disk may move, split, or rupture. This can cause the disk cartilage and nearby tissue to fail (herniate), allowing the inner gel portion of the disk to escape into the surrounding tissue. This leaking jelly-like substance can place pressure on the spinal cord or on an adjacent nerve to cause symptoms of pain, numbness, or weakness either around the damaged disk or anywhere along the area supplied by that nerve.
Many people experience no symptoms from a herniated disk, and the majority of people who have herniated disks do not need surgery.
The layman’s term “slipped disk” is, therefore, a misnomer and actually refers to a condition whereby portions of an abnormal, injured, or degenerated disk have protruded against adjacent nerve tissues. This condition is also known as a herniated disk, ruptured disk, or prolapsed disk. The most frequently affected area is in the low back, but any disk can rupture, including those in the neck.
Cross-section (side view picture) of herniated disk between L4 and L5 (the forth and fifth lumbar vertebrae)