What is a Herniated Disc and How Can Chiropractic Help?

You here the term herniated disc all the time, especially myself being a chiropractor and for many of the conditions I treat can involve the spinal disc. What many people may not know or understand is that there are varying degrees of herniated discs. Sometimes doctors or patients will refer to them as slipped discs as well but for technical purposes I will refer to them as herniated. The spinal discs play a critical role in your spine and if injured can lead to many different and painful conditions. I will go over these and how it affects you as well as the different types of herniation’s and how chiropractic treatment can help resolve these problems.

                To start let’s define herniation, a protrusion of a body (anatomic) structure through a defect or opening in a covering membrane, bone or muscle, which has now moved outside its normal anatomic position. Your spinal disc is made up of two different parts, one is the outer layer called the annulus fibrosis which is made up of collagen (the most abundant protein in your body) and is a thick protective layer to the second part. The other part of your disc is the inner layer called the nucleus pulposus which is a gel like substance that acts like a shock absorber for your spine. When your body is active and consistent pressure is placed on the spinal column the outer layer of the disc can tear if the supporting structures around it are not stable and in their proper place, like the bones(vertebrae), muscles, tendons and ligaments which all make up the joint structure of your spine. When the disc tears enough it allows the inner layer to slowly move out from the middle of the disc and flow through the tear. This body structure (the disc) now has a protruding area from the defect (tear) and has moved out of its normal anatomic position creating a herniation.

                As I mentioned before there are several different types of herniated discs. When a disc first degenerates or breaks down it loses its stability and starts to bulge and protrude. This is the beginning stage of the herniation and means that the inner layer and outer layer are starting to move out of their normal position. This effects the nerve tissue that surrounds each individual disc and creates a signal for pain or discomfort in that specific region of the body. If treatment does not take place and the herniation gets worse than it can turn into what’s called a prolapsed or extruded disc. In this case, the outer layer has torn enough to allow the inner layer material to extrude outside the outer layer in the region of the disc tear and puts greater and more consistent pressure on the nerve tissue which typically signals a more intense amount of pain with more frequency. Again, if this is left untreated it could lead to a sequestered disc. This means the inner disc material is now leaking into the spinal canal and is putting constant pressure on both the nerve and spinal cord tissue. If the disc injury gets to this point surgery is typically required.

                Now that we understand what a herniated disc is and the different types, there are many conditions that can be the result of a disc injury. Some of the more common conditions that patients will come to my office with are: sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome, referred neck and arm pain, referred low back and leg pain just to name a few. Pain from the disc herniation can come in many forms like sharp, stabbing, numbness and tingling, burning, pins and needles, a constant dull ache or even weakness in your extremities. These conditions can really impact the patient’s everyday life, whether its difficulty working, playing with your kids, going out with friends or family to a restaurant, having down time and relaxing or even trouble sleeping. So, a herniated disc if you have ever had one or you are experiencing one right now is clearly very serious and effects all aspects of your life including the constant pain.

                I have good news though; chiropractic treatment has great success with herniated discs in the neck and low back that can be saved and have not yet reached the sequestered stage. At the core of chiropractic treatment is the adjustment to the area of injury. Chiropractors adjust the joint structures allowing them to move back into their normal position and take pressure off of the discs which put pressure on the nerves giving you the symptoms that come with the herniation. When the chiropractor decompresses the area of the herniated disc they are allowing the disc to slowly move back into its normal anatomic position so it takes pressure away from the nerve tissue which again is where the pain is coming from and also restoring the integrity of the joint structure which includes the disc. Now chiropractors will also work on and treat the surrounding soft tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments) because they are also a part of the joint structure and need to be treated as well. Treatments for the soft tissue are called manual therapies and can include anything from stretching out the patient to breaking up the scar tissue in the soft tissue fibers using mechanical devices. Functional and therapeutic exercises are important as well which we do right here in my office with our patients to improve the stability and strength of the area we have corrected back to its normal anatomic position. So give your local chiropractor a call and see if they can help you and get you back to living your life without pain and discomfort.

If you or someone you know is suffering from a herniated disc in their neck or low back then contact us today and download the FREE consult!