Herniated Disc: Diagnosis & Treatment London

One of the most common back and spine conditions, a herniated disc (also known as a slipped disc) is a major cause of back pain. It can happen for lots of different reasons, including getting older and exercising too hard. While not everyone knows if they have a slipped disc, for other people the dislodged tissue can compress nerves in your back, causing mild to severe pain.

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What is a herniated disc?

A herniated disc happens when the soft tissue between the bones of your spine becomes dislodged, pushing out from between the vertebrae.

The adult spine is made up of 24 bones, also known as vertebrae. Between each vertebra there is a cushion of tissue known as a disc, which supports the spine and acts as a shock absorber. Each disc consists of a tough outer shell called the annulus, and a softer internal centre called the nucleus. If the annulus is torn or damaged, the nucleus can push out through this outer layer. This is a herniated disc.

Not everyone with a herniated disc has symptoms. If the tissue doesn’t affect the spinal nerves, you may not even realise it’s happened. However, if the disc starts to put pressure on the nerves running through your spine, it can cause pain and discomfort.

A herniated or slipped disc can affect any part of the spine, but is most common in the lower back (lumbar region).

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Signs and symptoms of a herniated disc

The most common symptoms of a herniated disc include:

  • Lower back pain.
  • Neck pain.
  • Numbness and/or tingling in your back, shoulders, limbs, hands, and/or feet.
  • Difficulty standing up straight or bending over.
  • Sciatica (shooting pains in your back, bottom, legs, and feet).

You may also find that you’re more prone to stumbling or dropping things. That’s because a slipped disc can cause muscle weakness in your arms and legs. 

It’s not always obvious that you’ve slipped a disc unless you feel pain or discomfort. If you don’t have painful symptoms, you don’t usually need to take any rehabilitative action.

However, some signs may indicate a more serious problem. If your symptoms are getting worse, you’re unable to control your bladder or bowels, or you lose feeling in the area around your genitals, seek urgent medical care.

What causes a herniated disc?

There are several reasons you might develop a herniated disc. Let’s explore some of the causes of a slipped disc in your spine.

Most common causes of a herniated disc

Herniated discs are most often caused by:

  • Getting older (slipped discs often happen as a result of the body’s natural wear and tear over time).
  • Using improper techniques to lift heavy objects.
  • Overly vigorous exercise.
  • Operating machinery.
  • Inactivity and living a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Being overweight.
  • Sprains or strains in the back.

Less common causes of a herniated disc

Trauma to your back can cause a herniated disc in rare cases. This may happen after a car accident or a fall.

Slipped disc risk factors

Certain risk factors can make you more prone to herniated discs:

  • Smoking — Nicotine may weaken the disc tissue.
  • Your job — Jobs that involve a lot of physically demanding work can increase the risk of slipping a disc.
  • Lifestyle — Sitting down a lot and being sedentary can make a herniated disc more likely.
  • Genetics — Some people are predisposed to slipping a disc thanks to hereditary factors.
  • Weight — Being overweight puts more strain on the discs in your back.

How is a herniated disc diagnosed?

A herniated or slipped disc is diagnosed with a medical questionnaire, physical exam, and diagnostic imaging. Diagnostic imaging at Harley Street Specialist Hospital involves non-invasive scans such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans to determine the cause of your pain.

Herniated disc treatment

Home treatments

If you have mild discomfort stemming from a slipped disc, you may be able to manage your symptoms at home. 

Recommended first-line back and spine treatments often include:

  • Over-the-counter painkillers (especially NSAIDs like ibuprofen).
  • A short rest period (no more than 1-2 days).
  • Applying ice or heat packs to the painful area.
  • Regular exercise such as walking or swimming.

Physiotherapy can be an effective treatment for people with a herniated disc. Regular movement and manual therapy can help strengthen your muscles, preventing weakness and muscle stiffness that may exacerbate your symptoms.

HSSH physiotherapists will work with you to find exercises that fit with your daily routine, target the weakened muscles, and account for any trauma or injuries you’ve experienced.


If over-the-counter painkillers and physiotherapy don’t effectively relieve pain, your doctor may prescribe stronger painkillers to help you manage this.

You may also be prescribed muscle relaxants to reduce tension in the affected area, which can in turn make recovery easier and faster.

Steroid injections

Steroid injections like cortisone offer fast and effective pain relief if other non-invasive treatments haven’t worked for your herniated disc.

With our ultrasound-guided injections, your HSSH specialist will use ultrasound waves to pinpoint the area that requires treatment. This minimises tissue damage in your back, accurately eliminates pain in the affected area, and can reduce the need for multiple injections.


If all else fails, you may be referred for surgery to repair your herniated disc. This is rare; for most people with a herniated disc, non-surgical interventions can provide effective long-term pain relief.

Surgery can permanently relieve the pressure on your spinal nerves caused by your herniated disc. Your surgeon will use one or more of the following techniques to achieve this:

  • Discectomy — Herniated disc removal.
  • Laminectomy — Expands your spinal canal by removing part of the bone around your herniated disc.
  • Artificial disc surgery — Replaces your damaged disc with an artificial one.
  • Spinal fusion — Increases spinal stability by fusing vertebrae together.

Why choose Harley Street Specialist Hospital for private pain management treatment?

At Harley Street Specialist Hospital, you can expect:

We welcome patients with private medical insurance or those wishing to pay for their own treatment.

Orthopaedic treatments

Don’t let painful bone and joint complaints stop you from living your life to the full.

Consult with one of our expert orthopaedic consultants and see how they can help reduce pain, improve movement and mobilise your joints, so you feel better.

With our consultants, clinical team, facilities and diagnostic equipment, we offer a wide range of treatments, so you won’t need to go anywhere else.
Between our internationally recognised consultants, we have specialists that can treat you from head to toe.

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