Understanding slipped discs and disc herniation
Did overexertion this past long weekend leave you thinking you’ve slipped a disc in your back?
“People often ask me: ‘What is a slipped disc? Do discs actually slip?’”says Dr. Patti Andrews, an Edmonton chiropractor. “The answer simply is no, discs cannot slip.”
There are a number of misconceptions about what actually happens when spinal discs get injured. What most people think of as a slipped disc is actually a disc herniation.
The discs themselves are cushions between each spinal bone from your neck to lower back that absorb shock. Discs have a jelly-like center and a firm, thick outer layer. With age and injury – or more specifically a loss of disc hydration and repetitive dysfunctional mechanics – the thicker outer material can tear and allow the inner gel to push outward.
In some cases the gel pushes outward just enough to cause a bulge, but in severe cases, the gel can extrude past the normal boundaries of the disc. A herniation is a process the disc goes through over time and is not usually due to a single incident.
A disc herniation most commonly occurs in the lower back. However, they can also occur in the neck. When a disc herniates, it causes a variety of symptoms because it irritates the surrounding nerves and/or spinal cord.
Symptoms of disc herniation can include numbness, tingling, burning, electrical shock-like pain, muscle weakness, sensation deficits, and even bowel or bladder problems. If a disc herniation occurs in the lower back, the symptoms are experienced first starting in the lower back and then down the thigh, calf and into your feet. Disc herniations higher up in your neck will cause symptoms in your arm and fingers.
“It is crucial that an examination is done by your chiropractor to diagnose a disc herniation,” says Dr. Andrews.
“Certain orthopedic and neurological tests will help your doctor achieve the diagnosis. X-rays will often help determine if there is pre-existing disc degeneration; however, the best method to definitively diagnose a herniation is an MRI.”
Disc herniations can be treated conservatively with ice and heat, rest, and restriction of certain activities that may aggravate the condition. Certain exercises can also be prescribed to stabilize and strengthen the spine.
Chiropractic treatment through gentle, low-force adjustments can be very helpful in reducing symptoms. If symptoms are increasing and the bowels or bladder is affected, surgery may be necessary. Your doctor will refer you to a specialist if the disc condition is not responding to conservative care.
If you’ve suffered a disc injury, consult your chiropractor. Chiropractors are specifically educated and trained to diagnose and treat conditions of the musculoskeletal system (the body’s bones, muscles, cartilage, tendons, joints and connective tissue) to help patients regain and maintain their health.
Find a chiropractor near you.