What Is a Herniated Disc?
Your spine is composed of a series of bones (vertebrae) that are connected – and cushioned by – soft discs that contain a jelly-like substance. These discs allow mobility of the spine and absorb the shock of movement and impact. Essentially, they allow you to remain limber. However, when one of these little discs encounters a problem they can be quite a nuisance.
A herniated disc occurs when there is a tear through the tough exterior of the disc and the inner portion is pushed into the spinal canal. This can cause pain and numbness due to spinal nerves getting compressed…yikes.
What is the Cause of a Herniated Disc/How Do They Occur?
Herniated discs can be caused by two things; disc degeneration/micro trauma over the years and an accident that results in a muscle strain-or-a traumatic incident to the spine such as a spine or an impact to the back. The most common cause of a herniated disc is simply the natural course of aging; as you grow older your spinal discs become less flexible and more prone to tears. Over time the annulus fibrous (the external layer of the disc) can start to thin and weaken due to daily wear and tear and allow the nucleus pulposus (the jelly-like substance in the interior) to push through and cause a herniated disc.
Conversely, a herniated disc can occur through one single motion when lifting large heavy objects, twisting the spine, or a car accident. In our office, we treat motor vehicle accident victims daily and it’s often rare we don’t find disc injuries, even if the accident was minor. Why? Because even in a fender bender, the shock to the spine causes the discs to displace, thus pressing on nerves and causing patients pain.
What Are The Symptoms of a Herniated Disc?
Think you lifted something a little wonky or have residual pain from a car accident a long time ago? There are a couple of symptoms that can help us decipher if you’re struggling with a herniated disc. You may have arm or leg pain; the most common area for a herniated disc to occur is the lower back, which manifests pain in the lower back itself, glutes, thighs, and calves. If you’re feeling shoulder and arm pain chances are you have a slipped disc in your neck (we know now the disc isn’t “slipped” and this term is misleading – but potato potahto). Weakness, numbness, and tingling may also alert you to the possibility of a disc issue.
In any case, as with most medical concerns, you should probably consult a medical professional. That’s what we’re here for. Don’t guess, get diagnosed. Once you do, you can begin the treatment process.
How To Treat a Herniated Disc?
There are two major categories available for herniated disc care; surgical and none surgical options. Surgical options include – well – surgery. While this is typically the last line of defense, there are some cases in which this may be the best first course of action. Cases in which a severe loss in function is observed in regards to the bladder or the bowel control and usage, spinal decompression surgery may be the best move.
For other cases non-surgical care may be the best way to go (or at least the place to start). Some non-surgical treatments include physical therapy, spinal injections of steroids, anti-inflammatory medication, and chiropractic care. Chiropractic techniques to address herniated discs include the flexion-distraction technique (pictured above), pelvic blocking treatments, gentle manual adjustments among others. The flexion-distraction technique involves reducing pressure on your discs by utilizing a specialized table that allows your chiro to stretch your spine and apply pressure to the location of the herniated disc using a pumping rhythm that can move the affected disc away from the affected nerves which alleviates the pain associated with them.
Pelvic blocking (we also have this in our office) utilizes specialized cushions (made specifically for chiropractic care) that go under either side of your pelvis and naturally draws away the herniated disc from the affected nerve by allowing the body to make adjustments without manual stimulation.
If you think you may have a herniated disc, our first advice is to see a doctor, whether that be your chiropractor, physical therapist or medical doctor. The best way to diagnose a herniated disc is with an MRI. Although the MRI is not necessarily needed in our office initially (nor times with physical therapy), we may order one, should improvement not occur with conservative care within 2-4 weeks. Likely your treatment plan will not solely consist of any one modality, but it will contain aspects of several of them. Perhaps you might be instructed to seek chiropractic care first, or not until after your surgery. Perhaps only physical therapy is needed. Either way, in the event that your particular case needs us, we’re here for you.