A vertebral disc is a wedge of two types of material between the cartilagenous plate that lies on the surface of adjacent vertebrae.

The peripheral part of this disc is made of a dense protein tissue and is called the anulus fibrosus. Inside the anulus fibrosus, much like a jam doughnut, lies a gelatinous material called the nucleus pulposus. The anulus fibrosus is tightly attached to the vertebrae through the cartilage plate and is the main reason why the vertebrae can only move small degrees. The elasticity of the disc absorbs a large part of any strain put through the vertebral column. If a stress is greater than the strength of this disc, the anulus fibrosus may rupture and the nucleus pulposus may herniate. This is described as a prolapsed or slipped disc.

There is usually excruciating pain and any movement makes the situation worse. The characteristic ‘locking’ in a bent position is because a disc usually slips when a heavy weight is lifted and the strain is taken at the vertebrae rather than at the knees as in a straight back lift.

The spinal column, in Eastern philosophies, represents an anatomical signpost for the major flow of energy through the system. This is especially true in Tibetan medicine. A weakness in a disc, therefore, is associated not only with a bad injury but is also a fundamental weakness in the energy as a whole. It may take an incorrect lifting position to trigger the event, but the underlying weakness is the reason why the injury occurs. This is particularly relevant if the injury is recurrent or chronic.

A slipped disc may be difficult to diagnose because pulled muscles and nerve entrapment may mimic the symptoms. An experienced osteopath or chiropractor is likely to be able to differentiate, but sometimes an X-ray is required.


Application of heat through a wrapped up hot water-bottle or heat pad may be instantly soothing. Settle into the most comfortable position and get the opinion of an osteopath, chiropractor or experienced Shiatsu practitioner.

The immediate use of Arnica 6 every 10m in is a homeopathic essential.

Osteopathic, chiropractic or Shiatsu treatment may supersede physiotherapy in alleviating discomfort and the associated muscle spasm that follows a ruptured disc.

Acupuncture may be instantly relieving.

Any nerve entrapment or associated injury should be dealt with by referring to the section on nerve injury .

Always pick up heavy objects with the back straight, taking the weight on the knees.

Regular exercise and stretching will keep muscles toned and limbered.

Yoga and Qi Gong are essential to prevent recurrence.

Avoid painkillers, because more damage will be done if movement is continued.

A doctor can administer an injection by local anaesthetic.

Surgical intervention is a last resort. Techniques are now performed under fibre optic conditions , although major operations may be required. In extreme cases the disc is removed and the vertebrae fused so that the joint becomes immovable.