The spine is made up of vertebrae, between the vertebrae are spongy discs that cushion impact and absorb shock as the spine operates.
If one of those discs becomes damaged or torn, they may rupture; this is commonly called a herniated disc, also known as a slipped disc. Disc herniations occur most commonly in the lower back and lower neck but can occur anywhere in the spine.
A Herniated Disc may occur as a result of age (they lose flexibility and can become brittle), trauma, and heavy lifting and occasionally from trivial movements.
The outer disc is made up of cartilage tissue and in the middle of the disc is a gel-like substance. When a disc “herniates,” the outer cartilage can tear and the gel-like fluid pushes out against sensitive nerves.
The resultant symptoms may include severe back pain, hip pain and pain and burning or numbness and tingling in the arms or legs. If the pressure on the nerve is high enough, weakness may occur.
A common term you have probably heard of is “sciatica” which is low back, hip and leg pain and numbness that is usually caused by a disc herniation.
A herniated disc diagnosis can be made after a comprehensive history and thorough physical exam, however; X-rays, MRI and EMG testing may be necessary.
First, we need to control inflammation; if we can control inflammation we can control pain. There are several ways we do that in the office with mobilization techniques, modalities and anti-inflammatory nutrition. At home, the patient is encouraged to stay active, use ice, avoid aggravating activities and educated on how to move, bend, sit and sleep to decrease pain. Medication may be necessary and we work with several very good medical doctors and orthopedic surgeons.
As the inflammation and severe pain subside, spinal distraction may be performed to decompress the disc and nerve. Soft tissue techniques can be helpful to decrease muscle spasm and pain, alternating hot and cold packs may be beneficial, as well as carefully selected home exercises.
As the disc heals, the patients home exercise program will also increase, muscles very quickly get weak after a disc herniation and rehab is necessary to restore proper function.
A Herniated Disc is a serious back injury, most disc herniations do heal but they take a lot longer than if you strained your back doing yard work. Herniations can heal in a few months, but some may take up to a year or longer and a selected few never heal 100%.
Only a small percentage of disc herniations require surgery; however, if surgery is necessary I will tell you immediately. Let an Algonquin Chiropractor help you regain control of your life!
By Anthony Galante