Herniated discs occur frequently and are fairly common as far as back injuries go. They can occur at any point on the spine, though they are usually found in either the lower back or neck. Herniated discs are also referred to as slipped discs or ruptured discs. This painful condition occurs when a spinal disc moves out of position from between vertebrae and puts pressure on adjacent nerves.
The staff at A Family Chiropractic Clinic has expertly treated many patients who’ve suffered from herniated discs. We use non-invasive techniques to help treat your problems without the downside of negative side effects. Our office also believes in educating our patients. We want to teach you about your condition so you are better able to prevent it from reoccurring.
What is a Spinal Disc?
A spinal disc is the cushion located between your vertebrae. It acts as a shock absorber to prevent your vertebrae from grinding against each other. Spinal discs give your spine flexibility and make it possible for you to twist and bend. They also absorb impacts from trauma and high impact movement.
These spinal discs have a strong outer layer with a soft center. There are fibers on the outside of the discs that connect them to the vertebrae. When a disc herniates, it means that the outer layer has torn or ruptured and the fluid in the center has leaked into the spinal canal. This leakage causes compression of the nerves and spinal cord which causes severe pain. The disc fluid also causes nerve inflammation and irritation
Causes of Herniated Discs
Herniated discs are usually caused by overuse or spinal trauma. However, they do become more delicate as a result of aging as well. Science has also shown us that there’s a genetic factor for disc degeneration. So some people are more susceptible to this type of injury.
As we age, our spinal discs lose their fluid gradually. As they dry out they develop microscopic cracks and tears on the surface. This causes the discs to become brittle and increases the likelihood of injury. From here, a number of things can lead to herniated discs.
Age and degenerative disc disease means that your discs aren’t as flexible as they once were. This can cause them to herniate due to normal wear and tear. Repetitive movements also can lead to herniated discs. Work, sports, and lifestyle can all contribute to these repetitive movements that gradually degrade your spinal discs over time. They can also injure already weakened discs. Other injuries can also cause herniated discs. For example, lifting heavy objects improperly can easily cause a disc to rupture. Another cause of herniated discs is high impact trauma.
Other factors that also increase your risk for developing herniated discs include being overweight. Individuals who are obese are much more likely to suffer from herniated discs. This is due to the excess strain placed on the spine by the extra weight. Genetics also play a part in your risk. Some genes are found more commonly in individuals who’ve suffered from disc degeneration.
Symptoms of Herniated Discs
People who suffer from herniated discs experience varying levels of pain. Pain type and intensity vary depending on both the location and degree of injury. Most often, pain is felt more on one side of the body than the other. In some cases, you may not feel any pain. This usually happens when the herniation is very minor. However, if the disc fully ruptures then the pain can be excruciating.
Pain can also radiate throughout the body depending on which nerves are affected. One of the most commonly impacted nerves is the sciatic nerve. Herniated discs in the lower back can put pressure on this nerve, resulting in pain in the lower body.
The primary symptom you may experience when you have a herniated disc includes pain of varying intensity. Pain could range anywhere from a dull ache to debilitating pain. Many people also experience numbness, tingling, or burning. Occasionally you may also have muscle spasms, muscle weakness, and altered reflexes. In rare, emergency conditions you may even experience a loss of bowel or bladder control. In this rare situation you need to seek medical attention immediately.
Diagnosing Herniated Discs
If you are experiencing the symptoms above then you’ll want to consult with your doctor or chiropractor. If you have a loss of bowel or bladder control then you would need to seek emergency medical attention.
Diagnosing herniated discs begins with a medical history and physical exam. A straight leg raising test can help diagnose the condition if it results in radiating leg pain. Your doctor will elevate your leg while you’re lying down. If this causes radiating pain down the leg then it’s likely you may be suffering from a herniated disc. You may also suffer from other neurological issues such as numbness, weakness, and a change in reflexes. Your doctor or chiropractor may also order a series of diagnostic tests to rule out other conditions.
Diagnostic Tests for Herniated Discs
While X-rays are not generally helpful in seeing herniated discs due to the problem being related to soft tissue, they can be used to rule out other conditions. If a herniated disc is suspected then magnetic resonance imaging or an MRI may be used. An MRI shows the spinal cord and surrounding soft tissue and nerves. It’s the best imaging option available to diagnose a herniated disc.
Other diagnostic tests such as Nerve Conduction Studies and Electromyograms may be used to test your nerves. They both measure damage to your nerves with the use of electrical impulses. If a herniated disc is left untreated then you are susceptible to permanent nerve damage. These are not typical tests for diagnosing herniated discs but may be used to diagnose other issues.
Treatment Options for Herniated Discs
A herniated disc is usually able to heal on its own. However, you should still seek medical attention if you have symptoms. A doctor or chiropractor is able to rule out other, more serious conditions. The disc fragments are absorbed by your body in a healing process called resorption. This typically takes about six months.
Your chiropractor can also get you on the path to recovery. A treatment plan involving spinal manipulation combined with physical therapy is a great way to ease symptoms of herniated discs. Many people prefer chiropractic care for treatment over medication and surgery. This is because chiropractic treatments are minimally invasive and have no negative side effects. Your chiropractor will also evaluate the rest of your spine and ensure that it is in good health.