You Slipped A Disk?

At Switchback Direct Physical Therapy, we hear people describe their pain or injury in a number of ways. This is really important to us, and we encourage this, because it helps us to understand the pain they are feeling so we know how best to help them.

A person’s perception of their pain is just as, if not more important, than the cause of the pain. There are a lot of studies that look at the correlation between people’s recovery from pain, and their view/mindset of their pain.

Why is this important?

When looking at outcomes for recovery, a person’s description and perception of their pain is really important.

There are many misleading phrases that are used frequently that can be just as harmful as the injury itself.

Some examples are, “I threw my back out,” “I wrenched my neck,” and “Wear and tear.”

We all know what people mean when they say these things. It helps people to visualize the pain someone is going through.

What we probably don’t realize when we say something like this, is the effect it can have on recovery.

One phrase with which I particularly take issue is, “I slipped a disk in my back.”

As a person who has gone through extensive anatomy courses including dissecting cadavers, I want to assure you that disks are NOT slippery. They are made of tough, fibrous tissue that holds their place very securely.

I have no idea where this phrase originated, but one thing I want to assure you is that disks don’t slip. I hope that gives someone a little peace of mind.

Injuries to the disc can occur of course. They can bulge, herniate, protrude, but they can not “slip.”

If disks were slippery, basically any activity involving movement of your spine could cause your disk to “slip out.”

If we had disks that were slippery, basic human functions would be impossible, there would be no such thing as sports, and reaching for a cup in the cupboard could be a debilitating mistake.

However, if a person believes their “disk slipped” that can, and does, lead to some scary situations.

Imagine going to someone you trusted with your health care and they tell you something like, “Well Jane Doe, looks like you have slipped a disk.” How would (or did) that make you feel?

You’d probably leave the office walking stiff as a board, afraid that any wrong move will make the slippery disk move; causing even more backpain.

You may feel terrified thinking about what would happen if another disk “slips?”

Will I be able to hike again?

Will I be able to walk the dog?

Can I make it through work with more than one disk slipped out of place?

Will I be paralyzed?

Thank goodness disks are not slippery!!

Even though disks don’t really “slip,” the phrasing of that can create a really scary mental image. That visualization of disks slipping and sliding in the spine can lead to fear of mobility.

We can become super cautious about doing ordinary tasks like chores at home, stop walking the dog, and completely eliminate things we love like hiking or skiing.

Our quality of life can decline rapidly because of this phrase and mental image.

That’s where the real problem lies.

Disks are not slippery and movement is not the enemy.

In fact, often the cure for low back pain is movement.

Specific stretches, strength and mobility exercises, and movement education are the quickest and most common ways to cure low back pain.

However, it is not a one size fits all situation. An exercise that helps ‘person A’ may cause more pain in ‘person B.’

One of the fastest ways to get out of pain and back to living their lives is to work with a physical therapist.

At Switchback Direct Physical Therapy, we frequently help people recover from back pain and get back to their favorite adventures.

If you would like to discuss back pain, have questions, or want a No-Charge Discovery Visit contact us today.


Disclaimer: This content is for general, informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice.


Dr. Tyler Burke

DPT, Owner and Founder of Switchback Direct PT

We help injured outdoor enthusiasts to stop hurting and start adventuring.

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