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Herniated Disc: What You Need to Know

Written By Jeff Feenstra, DC on May 3, 2018

Herniated Disc: What You Need to Know

Disc herniations are a very common spinal condition typically affecting people ages 30-50. This spinal condition can be extremely painful and confusing because, so much information exists out there about causes and possible treatments. There are other terms used to describe a herniated disc, such as, "slipped disc", "bulging disc", "ruptured disc", or "disc protrusion". Really this boils down to semantics and these are all the same thing and in my experience my patients don't care what it's call they just want it gone. A disc herniation can occur anywhere in the spine, but most commonly we see this condition in the lumbar spine.


What is a Disc Herniation?

By definition, a disc herniation is a condition in which the disc material extends beyond the space the disc should normally occupy. A disc is actually just a fancy ligament. It attaches two vertebrae together and acts as a shock absorber for our spine. The disc has a stiff outer ring called the annulus and gel center called the nucleus pulposus. When a disc begins to break down (we'll talk about that later), it can "dry" out and crack allowing the inner gel to push towards the outer ring creating the "bulge".  Another interesting fact about the disc is that it doesn't not have direct blood supply, meaning there is no blood vessels directly providing nutrition to the disc. The blood supply to the disc comes from the vertebrae above and below the disc. When our spine moves the disc is compressed and relaxed and this flushes blood through it, in a process called imbibition. Basically, the movement acts as a pump to move blood through the disc. So, it kind of goes without saying, motion is pretty important to the health of your discs. 


What causes a Disc Herniation?

Typically, the pain that comes on from a disc herniation is sudden, but the process is gradual.  This gradual process of break down, or degeneration, can be from an old injury, poor posture, or compromised spinal biomechanics. As we talked about earlier, motion is critical to the health of the disc, so if there is lack of motion or improper motion between two vertebrae, the health of the disc can be compromised. This is why chiropractic is so important, not only as a treatment, but as a preventative measure. Other risk factors for developing a disc degeneration and herniation include: age, gender (more common in men), physically demanding work, obesity, and smoking.


What are the symptoms of a Herniated Disc?

It probably goes without saying, but one of the most common symptoms of a herniated disc is pain. Leg pain (also known as sciatica) is the most common symptom with lumbar region disc herniations and shoulder or arm pain is very common with disc pathologies in the cervical (neck) region. Other symptoms can also present, such as, muscle weakness in the arms or legs; depending on where the herniation occurs. Often times patients report that certain movements exacerbate the symptoms, or a certain position is relieving of the leg pain. This relieving pain is also known as an antalgic posture and is very common with disc injuries.


So, what do I do if I think I have a Herniated Disc?

The first thing you need to do if you suspect you have a herniated disc is obtain a correct diagnosis. A spine professional, such as a chiropractor, is uniquely trained to assess these injuries and put together a treatment plan to get you back to your life. Typically, an initial treatment plan will last 4-6 weeks with the primary goal of reducing pain and improving function with basic activities of daily living. Diagnostic imaging such as X-rays and MRI may be ordered to further assess the structure of the spine (X-rays) and visualize the discs and other soft tissues (MRI).  As mentioned before, motion is very important to the health and recovery of the discs and the surrounding tissues, so a treatment plan centered around restoring this normal motion the first priority.  Multiple research studies have concluded that pain medications, muscle relaxers, and injections are of little to no benefit to the long-term outcome of these injuries and the best conservative option is spinal manipulation done by a chiropractor and exercise. Another very valuable treatment option is DRX9000 non-surgical spinal decompression, or traction. A spinal decompression traction table, like the DRX9000 is used to facilitate this treatment.  During a traction treatment the patient is fitted with a harness that attaches around the hips and another to the torso. This harness is then attached to a cable that pulls at a percentage of your body weight to gently traction the lumbar spine away from the upper torso. During traction the disc is actually placed under negative pressure, which allows the disc bulge to move away from there nerve root, relieving pain. Also during the traction, the motion through the disc drives blood flow and nutrients into the disc, which creates an environment for proper healing. In summary, a multi-modal treatment plan that includes chiropractic care, exercise, and spinal decompression is the best conservative approach. 

At Pro Chiropractic we have 5 highly qualified chiropractic physicians who are trained in the latest evidence based approaches to disc injuries and all other spinal conditions. If you have more questions or would like to schedule a consultation in our Bozeman Montana Chiropractic Clinic, call 406-219-2462. 


Posted In: Worker's Compensation Chiropractic Herniated / Bulging Disc

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