Help for Herniated Discs
Herniated discs are a common reason for people to seek the help of a chiropractor, although usually when they arrive, they can only suspect that is the problem. Many of the symptoms caused by a disc herniation, also known as a slipped or ruptured disc, can have other potential causes, as well. Chiropractic is centered on the belief that the body is capable of healing itself when it is put in the best position to do so, and major intervention for herniated discs is usually not necessary. However, patients should know they don’t just have to tolerate pain, either, and that a chiropractor can help them recover and lower their risk of recurrence.
How do Herniated Discs Happen?
The spinal discs are the shock absorbers located between each of the articulated vertebrae, save for the top two. (Articulated means those that move independently, as opposed to the fused structures of the sacrum and coccyx below the spinal cord.) Spinal discs are made up of gelatinous fluid surrounded by rubbery fibers. When the fibers wear out or are injured, the gel can push through, distorting the shape of the disc and making it less functional. Spinal discs naturally lose fluid as people age, and it’s not always possible to determine exactly what caused them to rupture. But risk factors include both a sedentary lifestyle and lifting heavy objects, as well as excess weight.
What Happens When a Disc is Herniated?
Herniated discs are not always noticeable, but they may cause localized soreness and the leaking gel can trigger an inflammatory reaction in nearby tissue. Even more concerning, the herniated material could compress a nerve near where it emerges from the spinal cord. The most common place for a herniated disc is in the lower back, so it is often one of the sciatic nerves, which run from the back down each leg, that gets pinched. However, a herniated disc in the neck could compress one of the nerves that travel into the shoulders and arms. Pinched nerve symptoms include radiating shocks, numbness, and tingling. It may also be harder to move muscles that receive messages from that particular nerve.
Diagnostic and Treatment
Discs don’t show up on x-rays, but your chiropractor may want to order them to rule out other potential causes of your symptoms. Since herniated discs usually only affect one side of your body, if you are having problems in your lower limbs, your chiropractor may perform a straight leg raise test. This simply means lifting one leg at a time to test them for differences.
Chiropractors are trained to perform spinal decompression therapy to help discs move back into place. Opening up space between the vertebrae may be done with traction, for which chiropractic offices are equipped with specialized equipment to perform safely. This simply means a patient will lie strapped on a table while its separate panels move in different directions. Chiropractors may also perform spinal adjustments to realign the vertebrae and discs.
Many offices will also offer ways of controlling inflammation. Depending on the disc’s location and the particular practice, these therapies may include electric muscle stimulation, ultrasound, or trigger point stimulation. Chiropractors will also frequently recommend therapeutic exercises to strengthen the core and other back muscles. These will reduce the risk of overburdening the discs in the future and help to ensure a complete recovery.