The term ‘slipped disc’ can be a source of confusion for people with spinal disc problems. From an anatomical perspective, the term is actually incorrect – your spinal discs cannot move. In fact, your spinal discs are grown into your intervertebral endplates, making it impossible for these discs to leave that space or 'move.' Rather, a slipped disc describes a problem within your spine caused by specific spinal ailment(s).
Determining exactly what anatomical condition slipped disc refers to in your case may help you and your physician arrive at the best course of treatment.
So what's a slipped disc?
Most commonly, the term slipped disc is used to refer to a herniated disc. When your spinal discs are damaged due to either natural aging or injury, the inner, gel-like core of the disc (the nucleus pulposus) can leak through the tough outer layers of the disc (the annulus fibrosus) and pressure or irritate a nerve root, causing pain. Your disc itself isn’t actually slipping or moving; rather, the inner material of the disc is moving out of it’s casing (the annulus fibrosus).
The term slipped disc can also refer to degenerative disc disease. If you have degenerative disc disease, your pain can be caused from inflammation, abnormal micromotion instability, lower back spasms, or any combination of these three. Again, your disc hasn’t actually slipped, so the term slipped disc is a misnomer.
Often, terms used to describe these problems are used interchangeably, adding to potential confusion. When you’re diagnosed with a slipped disc, it’s best to focus on getting an accurate clinical diagnosis to determine whether this phrase refers to a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease or another condition.