In treating bulging, ruptured, or herniated Disc (slipped discs), most spine experts agree that conservative care (non-surgical and drug-free) should be tried before surgery is considered, except in severe cases. Chiropractic care has a long history of successfully providing conservative care for disc conditions.
What is a “slipped” disc?
The disc is a circle of cartilage between each vertebra in the spine that acts as both a shock absorber and a shock distributor. Without discs, the spine simply could not function.
Discs don’t really “slip”. Instead, they bulge, herniate, or rupture.
Discs are made up of concentric circles or rings of fibrous material with a tough gelatinous center. When cracks or fissures occur in the fibrous rings, the gelatinous material in the center can begin to push out. A number of different factors may cause the disc to “slip”.
What causes a “slipped disc”?
The low back “slipped disc” is almost always the result of a process. As is often the case with joint and back injuries, the problem starts small and then builds until it shows symptoms.
For example, a patient coughs and experiences sudden back pain that then proceeds to leg pain. However, the cough didn’t cause the disc to “slip,” but represents the last in a series of a much longer process. Factors that precede the pain and symptoms of disc injury include disc dehydration, unusual stress on the disc secondary to disturbed mechanics, and too much load on the disc.
Discs depend on water to keep their height and perform the way they are supposed to. When we’re young, discs have their own circulation that helps keep them hydrated. As we get older, this circulation ends and the spine must move so that water can be drawn into the discs. If discs become dehydrated and lose their height, they become more vulnerable to cracks and fissures.
Discs are integral parts of our body’s mechanical system that allows us to move. The spine functions as a whole, so if we have mechanical disturbances in one part of the spine, even as far away from the low back as the neck, it can have an influence conditions in another area of the spine. Imbalances in the pelvis, problems in the sacroiliac joints, low back facet fixations, as well as joint restrictions in the midback and the neck, can contribute to the process of disc degeneration and eventually to an injury.
The mechanics can be disturbed from lack of muscular support or a muscular imbalance. This is important because discs can come under more stress from weak abdominal muscles, or too much weight around our abdomen. The resulting extension of a part of the body beyond normal limits (or hyperextension) can cause a wedging of the discs.
Then there is the opposite condition, hyperflexion. This is caused when we round our low back because of weak back muscles or poor sitting habits. This causes stress on the disc in the opposite direction. Lastly, if we put too much load on the back over a period of time, or occasionally in one dramatic episode, we can add another significant factor.
A “slipped disc” most often occurs when a number of these and other factors act together to cause disc injury.
How does a chiropractor diagnose your disc problem?
It begins by taking a careful history, checking vital signs, and the use of orthopedic and neurological testing — all of which are standards of practice in chiropractic offices. Reflexes okay? Is there any loss of muscle strength or signs of muscle wasting? Is there any loss of sensation along an area supplied by a particular nerve?
Chiropractors look carefully at posture and perform a “postural analysis” of the patient. They use techniques such as motion and static palpation to determine exact areas of restrictions in spinal joint motion. They palpate muscles and perform muscle testing, as well as perform tests for pelvic balance and determine whether there is a “short leg”.
X-rays of the low back may be taken, or the chiropractor might send the patient to an x-ray facility for these films. Depending on the findings, the chiropractor could call for an MRI or other imaging study if needed.
How does a chiropractor treat your disc problem?
After analyzing all of the information gathered, the chiropractor determines if the patient has suffered a disc injury. Then the crucial diagnostic question is, “what type of disc injury has occurred?”
Whatever the category of disc bulge, the low back pain, leg pain, and muscle spasms require examination and, in most cases, a period of conservative, non-surgical care prior to any consideration of surgical intervention.
What is the chiropractic approach to conservative care of the disc?
Chiropractors who treat disc conditions integrate their low force adjusting techniques in an organized protocol of evaluation and treatment.
Throughout a program of chiropractic care for disc conditions, patients are asked questions regarding their progress. Evaluation of progress using neurological and chiropractic tests based on comparison with the initial findings are essential aspects of this chiropractic protocol.
If a patient is not responding to conservative care using this protocol, the chiropractor will refer the patient for imaging studies and spine specialist consultation.
How is the use of holistic chiropractic care incorporated into the care of the disc?
Even specific conditions, such as a “slipped”, herniated, or ruptured discs, are treated in a whole body context. Chiropractors consider stress and nutritional and lifestyle factors, especially as they relate to your perception of pain and the reduction of inflammation. Exercise, stress management, and improved nutrition and eating habits are all considered when the acute (beginning and most painful) phase of pain and inflammation has been resolved.
Do you have any questions or concerns Chiropractic and how it can help you and bulging, ruptured, or herniated disc? Contact us directly at 630-553-7737. We will be happy to answer your questions you may have.