Conditions & Treatment

Herniated disc

What are herniated discs?

The 24 vertebrae of your spine are separated from one another by pads of cartilage called discs. These discs have a fairly tough outer layer with a soft interior to cushion against the shocks and strains experienced as you move and put various stresses on your spine. The discs are subject to injury, disease, and degeneration with use over time. Certain activities and types of work increase the risk of discs being damaged or deteriorating. When the soft interior material of a disc pushes out through a tear or weakening in the outer covering, the disc is said to be herniated.

Herniated discs are also called protruding, bulging, ruptured, prolapsed, slipped, or degenerated discs. There are fine distinctions between these terms, but all really refer to a disc that is no longer in its normal condition and/or position. Herniated discs cause pain by impinging on (intruding upon, irritating, and pinching) and even injuring nerves in the spinal column.

What are some of the typical symptoms of herniated discs?

Most disc herniation takes place in the lower back (L5-S1). The second most common site of herniation is the neck (C5-C6). A herniated lumbar disc may send pain shooting down through your buttock and thigh into the back of your leg (sciatica). Cervical disc herniation may cause pain in the shoulder, arm, and hand. Herniated discs can cause muscle weakness, make it hard to get up when you've been sitting or lying down, cause pain when you strain to do something, even when you cough or sneeze. They sometimes produce pain in the lower right side of the abdomen. Herniated discs may also affect nerves to the bladder and bowel, causing incontinence. This symptom signals the need for immediate, emergency attention.
When should I consult a chiropractor?

Whenever you have a problem, it makes sense to always start off with the most non-invasive, conservative approach first.  And only after you've given the conservative approach a genuinely fair opportunity - and it's failed to work, should you then move onto a more invasive approach. Chiropractic care is without a doubt the safest, most conservative approach that you have available.  Chiropractors are experts in the diagnosis and care of musculoskeletal problems - such as herniated discs.  You should see a chiropractor as your first choice.

What can chiropractic do?

There is broad acceptance among health care professionals and the public of the recommendation that the pain from herniated discs be initially treated conservatively. And only a minority of disc herniations turn out to require treatment as traumatic and costly as hospitalization and surgery or with as many side effects (especially for older people) as opioid analgesics and muscle relaxers.

A chiropractor will examine and question you carefully, take a complete history, and conduct appropriate diagnostic tests. He or she will focus on exactly what symptoms you've been suffering and determine which parts of your spine are the likely cause of your pain and loss of function. Chiropractic provides the special training, techniques, and experience needed to safely and effectively adjust your spine so that the stress on the discs is minimized, the pain relieved, the damaged or displaced structures given a chance to heal, and your ability to return to normal functioning restored.

Can chiropractors "cure" herniated discs?  I heard that the only way to completely correct a disc herniation was through surgery?

The answer to this question depends on the  the severity and location of the herniation, as well as the patient's age and his/her own innate recuperative abilities. Chiropractic care has been conclusively proven to offer exceptional results for the management of disc herniations.  The current scientific research (which has been published in peer reviewed, index medicus journals) overwhelmingly concludes that chiropractic care is extremely effective - (with a rating of 94.2%).  There are also current research papers which involved taking MRI studies of patients before AND after their chiropractic care.  And after repeat MRI scans, 63% of the patient's studied revealed a reduced or completely absorbed disc herniation!

When should I consult a surgeon?

Surgery should only be considered as an absolutely last option - and then only after you have tried chiropractic, physical therapy, massage therapy, and the drug approach (pain killers, steroids, muscle relaxers).  If you do need a surgeon, I personally recommend using a neurosurgeon (as they spend all their time on that part of the body - and thus have a lot more experience).  Please note that today, most surgeons will not even consider you as a surgical candidate unless you have already tried chiropractic, physical therapy, etc. first.

Spinal Anatomy

The spine is an extremely complex structure that consists of 24 vertebrae, the brain stem, spinal cord, 62 spinal nerves, peripheral nerves, nine common ligaments, five layers of muscle, adipose, blood vessels, lymph vessels, and fascia.  The 24 vertebrae are composed of:

     7 cervical (neck) vertebrae
   12 thoracic (mid-back) vertebra
     5 lumbar (low-back) vertebrae)

In between  vertebrae is an inter-vertebral disc.  The disc is mostly composed of water, and has a very poor direct blood supply.  It gets it's hydration and nourishment during motion.  When you exercise, you are able to deliver oxygen, nutrients, and fluids (via the surrounding blood vessels).  People who are sedentary are at greater risk of premature disc degeneration.

This close-up bird's-eye image shows the relative anatomy and position of the intervertebral disc to the spinal nerves and spinal cord (yellow structures).  The spinal cord is the larger yellow structure in the middle.
The inter-vertebral disc has two regions.  The outer part is called the "annulus fibrosus".  The inner part is called the "nucleus pulposus".  The outer "annulus" looks like concentric rings (like the annular growth rings of a tree), or layers of an onion.  It is a very tough ligamentous material.  The inner "nucleus" is very soft - and is often compared to the center of a jelly donut.

If you have been suffering with a disc herniation, please give White Chiropractic in Mooresville a call at (704)799-1416.  We're here  to help.