The term ‘disc’ is short for ‘intervertebral disc’. These are the spongy cushions that separate the bones of the spine (vertebrae). Discs provide shock absorption, keep the spine stable and give the vertebrae ‘pivot points’ to allow movement.
Discs have two parts: the elastic outer shell (the ‘annulus fibrosis’), and an inner jelly-like substance (the ‘nucleus pulposus’). The outer shell surrounds and holds the ‘inner jelly’ within the disc core.
Discs can handle quite a lot of pressure or load without problems. But certain types of pressure can cause strain and irritation of the outer shell. In some cases, this can push its contents out. This is known as a slipped disc.
Disc changes happen across our lifetime as connective tissues change with age, and the structures of the spine adapt to cope with the physical loads of daily life. Disc bulges, disc space narrowing (or disc height loss) and disc dehydration are normal, common age-related changes.
A slipped disc occurs when the outer ring becomes weak or torn and allows the inner portion to slip out. This can happen with age. Certain motions may also cause a slipped disc. A disc can slip out of place while you are twisting or turning to lift an object. Lifting a very large, heavy object can place great strain on the lower back, resulting in a slipped disc. If you have a very physically demanding job that requires a lot of lifting, you may be at increased risk for slipped discs.
Overweight individuals are also at increased risk for a slipped disc because their discs must support the additional weight. Weak muscles and a sedentary lifestyle may also contribute to the development of a slipped disc.
As you get older, you are more likely to experience a slipped disc. This is because your discs begin to lose some of their protective water content as you age. As a result, they can slip more easily out of place. They are more common in men than women.
Most herniated discs occur in the lower back, but they can also occur in the neck. Signs and symptoms depend on where the disk is situated and whether the disk is pressing on a nerve. Herniated disks usually affect one side of the body.
Arm or leg pain. If your herniated disc is in your lower back, besides pain in your lower back, you'll typically feel pain in your buttocks, thigh and calf. You might have pain in part of the foot as well.
For a herniated disc in your neck, you'll typically feel the most pain in your shoulder and arm. This pain might shoot into your arm or leg when you cough, sneeze or move into certain positions. Pain is often described as sharp or burning.
You can have a herniated disc without symptoms. You might not know you have it unless it shows up on a spinal image.
Your Chiropractor will first perform a physical examination. They will be looking for the source of your pain and discomfort. This will involve checking your nerve function and muscle strength, and whether you feel pain when moving or touching the affected area. Your Chiropractor also will ask you about your medical history and your symptoms. They will be interested in when you first felt symptoms and what activities cause your pain to worsen.
Imaging tests can help your Chiropractor view the bones and muscles of your spine and identify any damaged areas. Examples of imaging scans include:
Your doctor can combine all these pieces of information to determine what is causing your pain, weakness, or discomfort.
An untreated, severe slipped disc can lead to permanent nerve damage. In very rare cases, a slipped disc can cut off nerve impulses to the cauda equina nerves in your lower back and legs. If this occurs, you may lose bowel or bladder control.
Another long-term complication is known as saddle anesthesia. In this case, the slipped disc compresses nerves and causes you to lose sensation in your inner thighs, the back of your legs, and around your rectum.
While the symptoms of a slipped disc may improve, they also can worsen. If you cannot perform the activities you once could, it’s time to see your doctor.
It may not be possible to prevent a slipped disc, but you can take steps to reduce your risk of developing a slipped disc. These steps include:
Surgery on slipped discs is an invasive, expensive procedure, bound to lead to a long recovery time. Meanwhile, over-the-counter or prescription drugs are associated with harmful side effects. Dependence on these medications may also lead to addiction, all the while masking pain instead of absolving it.
Chiropractic care, on the other hand, is an individualized program focused on long-term health. It’s non-invasive, and natural. In fact, studies have demonstrated chiropractic is an effective, conservative treatment for slipped discs.
A chiropractor will provide a full physical evaluation and discuss all possible treatment options with you. These could include any of the following:
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