Slipped disc symptoms

(Keywords: Slipped disc symptoms, chiropractic help, sequestered disc, tingling in feet and legs, Pisa sign, Slump test, postero lateral disk herniation, help for sciatica pain)

Lower back pain may be associated with pain in the leg(s), low back pain on sneezing, coughing and straining on the toilet, pain on bending forwards and perhaps pain in the leg on bending forwards.

There are four degrees of 'slipped disc'. In the first THREE Grades (I - III) you will have low back pain, which may or may not be severe. In Grade IV, the back diminishes dramatically, but the leg pain becomes far worse.

The four levels of slipped disc (disk) are:

Grade I: Low back pain only

In 60% of the patients with this condition, the pain starts after bending and twisting and, often, heavy lifting. For example lifting and moving a potted plant. Should you sneeze at just that moment, then your back is especially vulnerable.

The low back pain may be severe, or in fact relatively minor.

Grade I slipped disc symptoms are:

  • Back Pain on bending forwards
  • Pain with coughing, sneezing and/ or bearing down on the toilet, and laughing.
  • Pain on sitting.
  • Early mornings may be worst.
  • It's possible that you may go into a strange posture. Stuck bending forwards, or to the side. The tower of Pisa sign. POSTERO LATERAL DISK HERNIATION ...

The normal disc is a sort of shock-absorber. Notice that the disc is made up of two parts:

  1. A central bubble of gel called the nucleus. Fluids cannot be compressed, so when you lift something, and there is increased weight on the disc, the forces are distributed in all directions. This is quite normal.
  2. The gel is contained in the annulus, ring. Notice that it consists of about 6 layers of fibre, arranged like an onion skin, but also interwoven with cross links.

Grade II: Low back pain + Leg pain

If the gel in the nucleus tears through more layers of the ring then the slipped disc symptoms will change: pain, or tingling, or a numb feeling, or a tight feeling starts to develop, first in the buttock, then radiating down the leg.

A tear through one or two layers is often called a bulging disc. It hasn't actually reached the nerve. But if it tears through more layers then tingling and pain in the leg will begin.

If whilst busy with some activity, usually involving twisting, and often bending, whilst applying pressure, and you feel a stab of pain in the lower back, immediately stop. Your back is warning you, and if you're lucky the damage is not yet done. Sometimes alas the fibres of the annulus have just torn further, and it's vital to prevent the gel from rupturing right through into the canal.

Take special note of which part of your leg is affected; it gives your chiropractor important extra information. Read more about patterns of tingling in feet and legs at the link below.

Notice now that the bulge, now called a protrusion, has reached the nerve; if it goes any further, then called a prolapse, sometimes known as an extrusion. These terms tend to be used rather loosely and interchangeably.

Perhaps more commonly, the nerve isn't actually pinched. The fixated joint prevents proper joint nutrition of the hyaline cartilage from occurring. As the cartilage is starved of nutrients and oxygen, it begins to release noxious toxic chemical, causing inflammation of the surrounding tissue, including the nerve root.

The result is radiating symptoms down the leg, the pattern according to which nerve is affected.

Tip @ Slipped disc symptoms

People often think the tightness in the back of the thigh is from a tight hamstring - and try stretching it by bending forwards. It's about the WORST thing you can do if you are having slipped disc symptoms!


Lower back pain? Tightness or pain in the back of ONE leg? Definitely not fine.

Grade III: Low back pain + leg pain + NEUROLOGICAL CHANGES

Whilst I don't believe one has to rush off to the doctor with every snivel, or to the chiropractic with every back pain, should pain, or a tight feeling, develop in the leg then I recommend you don't wait. Get to your chiropractor immediately. The sooner that disc is reduced the less the likelihood of it progressing.

Why? Untreated Grade 2 often develops neurological signs:

  • First, increased response to a pinprick in the leg, later it becomes numb.
  • A decreased reflex.
  • Weakness, most often either difficulty raising the big toe, or standing on the heel.

Notice in this next picture - an MRI scan - how the gel is bulging deep into the Inter vertebral foramen? Now it's called a prolapse... aka as an extruded disc.

As these slipped disc symptoms progress, your life style will become more severely limited. Your Chiropractor will probably insist you stay at home, not sit at all, and probably spend some of the time lying down, and doing some lower back exercises ...

Grade IV: Minimal back pain + severe pain in the leg.

Mr T is a very fit Dutch policeman. Four months ago after a fall on the beat, he developed the typical slipped disc symptoms. Low back pain, pain with sneezing and pain on bending.

Anti inflammatory drugs were prescribed by his doctor, but no reduction of the bulge was attempted; it was seen simply as an inflammation, rather than a change in the normal workings of the disc, what we call the biomechanics of the disc, nor was any rehab attempted. The pain went away.

As part of his job, he often needs to travel long distances in the car, and within weeks he began developing back pain again, and worse, more severe slipped disc symptoms developed.

First pain in the leg, then weakness in the calf, and numbness on the side of his foot. Physiotherapy helped somewhat.

Abruptly, the pain in his back subsided after a heavy shower of sneezes. Dutch is a very colourful language! And then the pain in his leg became very severe. Sitting in the car became quite impossible.

In a grade 4, a fragment of the disc gel becomes detached from the main body of the nucleus and becomes lodged in the spinal canal. Back pain is greatly reduced, but the leg becomes very painful; bladder symptoms may develop. In technical jargon, it's called the sequested disc. Ouch!

Can you see the tiny loose fragment?

This scan was only taken after he had already had four chiropractic adjustments, manipulations, of the slipped disc. By then the pain in his leg was already 30% less, so we will never know how large the bulge actually was in the beginning.

CHIROPRACTIC CARE @ Slipped disc symptoms

The Slipped Disc Symptoms of a Grade I or II herniation are treated by chiropractors on a daily basis. It's routine, though I've learned never to take a slipped disc for granted. Nor should you. Research shows that 5% of all those suffering acute lower back pain will go on to develop severe, disabling, chronic pain and no one knows ahead of time whether you could be in that 5%.

My experience is that it's usually those who won't listen who end up under the knife. Who refuse to slow down, stop sitting and if necessary stay at home.

"Those who won't hear, must feel."

- Dutch proverb.


Bed rest in the management of lower back pain remains controversial. Research in fact indicates that bed rest ON ITS OWN has no place in the management of lower back pain. In fact it may worsen the condition.

However, when included in the chiropractic package of the management of very severe low back pain and leg pain, I find intermittent bed rest is vital. The patient may not sit as it increases the pressure in the bulging disc by as much as a factor of 12x; standing and walking for any length of time are well nigh impossible. So what must the patient do? Slipped disc rules ...


Is that pain in your leg coming from your back, or something else? Have you a pulled a calf muscle, a tendonitis, a deep vein thrombosis, a partially blocked artery, or one of a heap of other conditions?

The test I use most frequently is called the Slump test, and you can do it at home, but interpreting the results is not straight forward. However, with a negative Slump test you more or less categorically rule out a pinched nerve in the back.

It's rare for the pain to get straight to your leg, with no back pain first, but it can happen. Most uncommon. SLUMP TEST ...

Nope this is not a fancy scan of a disc that is in decay. It's a picture of Nebula NGC 2392, taken from the Hubble telescope. It's been called 'Eskimo' because it looks like a face surrounded by a furry hood.

The hood is, in fact, a ring of comet shaped objects flying away from a dying star. Eskimo is 5,000 light years from Earth.

Keeps our human problems in perspective! Our Sun in comparison is I believe 7 light minutes from the Earth.

The search this site function in the navigation bar on the left enables you to find stuff on this site.

Google has gone through an enormous shakeup in the last year, giving webmasters much grief.

Meantime, use that search function to find more information about subject material mentioned on the page where links have probably been removed.  There are over 360 pages at chiropractic help; it's become a veritable encyclopedia dedicated to better health.

Not a Chiropractic Case? Perhaps. For the first twenty five years in practice, whenever a patient had a Grade IV slipped disc, also known as a sequestered disc, I wouldn't even attempt to treat them. Off to the surgeon. However, now for the last five years, I have started giving a trial period of treatment, limited to four weeks. Well, Mr T is 80% better. He can sit normally, and this week he goes part time back to work.

Update: Mr T got completely better, and after three two monthly consultations, completely painfree, with full range of motion of the back and a negative slump 7, I discharged him. He knows to keep doing his exercises.

Update: On a personal note, I am recovering myself from a sequestered lumbar disc, affecting the side and front of the thigh, and inner lower leg, confirmed on mri. With excellent care from my colleague, and a great deal of patience, I have no pain, but still some residual numbness in the lower leg: Femoral nerve damage.


Rehab is absolutly vital whenever a patient has slipped disc symptoms. Otherwise the relentless progression from

Grade I > Grade II > Grade III > Grade IV > Surgery

becomes increasingly likely.

I hasten to say: Not every Grade IV can expect to respond as well as Mr T has. This is a fairly small prolapse, though it was worth a try don't you think? But really the trick is to prevent a Grade IV. Almost invariably the sequestered disk is only caused by neglect on someone's part. Your's, your doctor's, even your chiropractor's ...

Can manipulation cause a Grade IV? Yes, I regret to say I have caused a few in thirty years, particularly in the early years when I was inexperienced. No treatment, chiropractic or medical, is without risk. Even withholding treatment, as happened in Mr T's case, can and often does worsen a disc injury.

Now I've learned not to use brute force and ignorance in the treatment of slipped disc symptoms. Mostly! Occasionally, on a very large person, considerable force is required to reduce the slipped disc.

Interestingly, research shows that if you FIRST consult a chiropractor, you are less likely to end up under the knife.

Anti inflammatory shots in the buttock

This is simply an anecdote, but what's really interesting is the defence's expert witness, a Dr Swamiji Anath's statement.

It's reported in the daily newspaper of 11 June 2013 that a certain medical doctor appeared the previous day before a board of inquiry of the South African Medical and Dental council for not taking due-care when giving an anti inflammatory injection in the buttock for a lower back condition. He apparently put the needle into the sciatic nerve, permanently damaging it.

Said the expert witness in his defence: "Damaging the sciatic-nerve whilst giving a shot into the buttock happened throughout the world and what's more in the best of hospitals."

Lower back surgery

I don't think any chiropractor would consider that lower back surgery is never necessary or advisable. I personally refer to good surgeons when all else has failed, but only if there is significant leg pain. Read more:


Chronically degenerate facet joints in the lumbar spine can also produce pain that radiates down the leg, frequently to the calf, but also to the front of the thigh and lower leg. Then bending BACKWARDS or TO THE SIDE causes pain in the leg, sometimes with minimal back pain...

Important considerations 

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Interesting challenges of the day

1. Mr B  came initially for a painful and stiff neck and then asked whether chiropractic could help the cold numb feeling running down the side of his thigh for six months. Meralgia paresthetica is a double crush syndrome with the nerve affected in the back and groin. He's 80% improved after five treatments.

2. Mrs C has a long history of severe, disabling migraine headaches since having her wisdom teeth removed. She clenches her teeth at night. After six treatments she has no migraines but some jaw joint discomfort remains; a bite plate is in the offing.

3. Mrs U has the trophy for the worst back this year. After major surgery with plates and screws two years later she still had paresis in the lower leg and severe disabling back pain. She's doing far better than expected, in no little part due to a lift in her shoe for a very short leg.

4. Mr V is 86 years old and hurt his back helping his wife into the car. Just one treatment of the sacroiliac joint and he's eighty percent better. It's not always like that.

5. Mr W lay on his back knocking down a pillar. Turning his head causes severe vertigo. He needs the Epley exercises, not pills, research shows. Update, he's fine.

6. Mrs X, a young mother has severe lower back pain, with numbness down the posterior thigh, calf and side of her foot. It started after a long drive in the car. After six treatments she is 60 percent better, but it's slow and is going to take the full 6 weeks to heal.

And now a setback, after lifting her child she now has leg pain. It's going to the be difficult.

7. This lady is a 70 year old woman, is on maintenance care for a nasty lumbar stenosis despite having to do everything at home. Her husband has a hospital acquired infection after a total shoulder replacement. After four operations he is incapacitated.

8. She is an 78 year old woman, is doing remarkably well with a bad sciatica. But over 200 pounds she is not losing weight; in fact, gaining despite my suggestions. She's high risk for a stroke. I have referred her to a dietician to crack the whip.

9. This man is a 73 year old engineer, still working, is doing fine after a long episode of lower back pain. Some pain on the side of the hip remains after five treatments. I reassured him it's not hip arthritis.

10. A 64 year old woman has had scheuermanns disease; it's left her with a spinal kyphosis and chronic middorsal pain. She responds well to chiropractic treatment provides she come every six weeks or so for maintenance treatment.

11. Mr C has been having severe headaches, and taking a lot of analgesics. It's a non complicated upper cervical facet syndrome, and she's doing well.

12. Mrs D, a middle aged woman with hip pain of one year duration, despite other treatment. Xrays reveal an impingement syndrome and early hip arthritis. There's much to be done.

13. Both Mrs E and I can't believe how much better her lower back and leg pain are. Surgery for a scoliosis and spondylolysthesis three years ago helped greatly for one year. But then her leg went lame and weak. He was responded extremely well despite all expectations.

And so the day goes; chiropractors shouldn't be treating the elderly most medical sites state but that's so much bunkum.

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