Chiropractic Care for Herniated Disc
As Chiropractors, disc problems are something we treat our patients for on a daily basis. There are many different phrases people use to refer to herniated discs. Here are some of the most common ones. These different terms are based on what the disc looks like when viewed on a MRI.
- Herniated disc
- Protruded disc
- Bulging disc
- Extruded disc
- Sequestered disc
- Ruptured disc
(a layman's term, not a clinical word)
- Slipped disc
(a layman's term, not a clinical word)
At least 50% of the patients that we see at our office on a daily basis have some kind of disc condition, or disc problem. Whether it be a disc bulge, disc protrusion, disc extrusion, or some other type of disc problem that they have going on. Chiropractic care for a herniated disc is something we do successfully everyday.
What is a Disc, and What Does it Do?
The disc is the cartilage between the spinal bones (vertebrae). The outer part of the disc is a fibrous material that contains the inner part of the disc, which is more of a gel-like material called the nucleus pulposus. The disc acts as a shock absorber, or a cushion and a spacer between the spinal bones of your spine column. The disc is softer so it absorbs the shock of the body when you are bending and twisting, and allows spinal movements. The discs also create space in between the bones allowing the nerves to exit out in between the bones. So the discs separate the bones creating that hole called the intervertebral foremen where the nerve comes out. If you have problems with the disc, where it degenerates, or the disc bulges or herniates out, it can put pressure on the nerves causing all different kinds of problems and pain.
What Causes Disc Problems
Disc problems can be created by trauma, or traumatic injuries, those types of injuries such as sports, falls, lifting, poor posture, and accidents. So any major traumatic injury can cause damage or weakening of the discs and cause a disc problem. Additionally, a misalignment of the spinal bone, where the bone is not moving properly, will create degenerative changes within the disc leading to degenerative disc disease.
Spinal bones are made to move a certain way, and the only way that the disc gets nutrition and remains healthy is when the bones are moving properly above and below the discs. Another thing that can cause disc problems, or degeneration of a disc, is any kind of a lack of activity for long periods of time. Poor diets, over a long period of time, can also create disc problems because a poor diet will cause increased inflammation in the body, which then can create degenerative changes in the discs.
Symptoms of Disc Problems
Typically when you see disc herniations they are in the lumbar spine (lower back) or in the cervical spine (neck). When you are experiencing a disc problem, the symptoms could be numbness, tingling, burning or aching sensations into the legs all the way down into the feet and into the toes. Or you can get numbness, tingling, burning or aching sensations that radiates down into the arms and into your fingers.
Lower Back Pain (lumbar spine) with radiation into the legs
There are a series of nerves that exit out from the lower back and run down into the legs called the lumbosacral plexus. These nerves exit out between the bones and turn into one of two nerves, one is the sciatic nerve, which is the nerve that runs down the back of the leg to the feet, the other one is the femoral nerve, which is the nerve that goes into the front of the leg.
Neck Pain (cervical spine) with radiation into the arms
There are a series of nerves that exit out from your neck, called the brachioplexus, and run down your arms into your fingers. Disc problems in the neck can also be seen in symptoms such as frequent headaches, sleep issues, and a weaker immune system. Another symptom we see from cervical disc problems is pain between the shoulder blades. Nerves in the cervical spine affect the rhomboid muscles. Since the rhomboid muscles start at the base of the neck and run down, attaching to the scapula (shoulder blade) not everyone is aware that disc problems in the neck can be a source of their pain.
Diagnosing a Disc Problem
When patients come into our office we always do a full and thorough examination, which includes a consultation, a full exam with orthopedic, neurological, physical exam tests and computerized nerve exams. We will take X-Rays to visualize the spine and see if you have any misalignments, disc degeneration, or osteoarthritis that can be contributing to your condition. If we see degenerative disc disease, where the disc is getting smaller than it should be, this indicates that the disc is degenerating and most degenerative discs have a bulging or herniation associated with it.
Here are some of the common findings the exams can reveal:
- Decreased deep tendon reflexes in the arms or legs. This could indicate that there is pressure on the nerves that exit out of the spine and shoot down into the arms and into the legs.
- Another test would be checking sensations that will use the picky wheel, or pinprick. If the patient senses a decreased sharp sensation that means that the sensory nerves, that come out and shoot down into the arms and into the legs, are being affected.
- During orthopedic testing, we will put the spine in different positions, and if it re-creates the radiation of pain in the arms and legs this could be indicative of a disc problem going on.
The best way to see a herniated disc is with a MRI. With a MRI we can see the disc and the water content of the disc, see if the disc is bulging or herniating out, and see if the disc is occluding (obstructing) the hole where the nerve comes out.
Inactivity and Disc Herniations and Problems
When someone is inactive, and usually when people are inactive they’re sitting for long periods of time, the disc doesn’t stay healthy. This is because the disc stays healthy in response to motion and movement. So when you're moving around and those discs are moving around, there’s fluid that's coming in or imbibing in and out of the disc, and as a result the disc gets nutrition, and stays healthy.
When people sit for long periods of time, sitting puts three times the amount of pressure on the disc as opposed to standing. So, people who sit for long period of time for work, or just sit because they are not very active, then what happens is the disc starts to go through a degenerative process. So sitting for long periods the time is not the best thing for your spine, or for the discs. (See our article: Can Sitting Too Much Kill You?)
Chiropractic Care Services for Herniated Disc Problems
Once again, 50% the people that we see in our office have disc problems. So, we are very successful at treating disc problems. Of the people that have disc problems: herniated discs, protruded discs, bulging discs, extruded discs, slipped discs, or sequestered discs — for 95% of these people, we are able to find the cause, eliminate the pressure on the nerve, and we keep most people away from surgery. 95% of the people that we see do not end up in surgery.
After reviewing the results of our exams, we will plan a course of treatment with our patient to correct their problem. The course of treatment may include some, or all of the following:
Flexion Distraction:Effective at increasing the intervertebral disc height, creating more room for the nerves while improving circulation. This also allows the center of your disc (nucleus pulpous) to move back into its proper position in the spine.
Specific Chiropractic Adjustments:Chiropractic adjustments that remove subluxations (misalignments) and restore proper movement to the spine.
Massage Therapy & Electronic Muscle Stimulation:Using massage, electronic muscle stimulation (EMS), to help decrease pain, decrease inflammation and help speed up the healing process.
Rehabilitative Exercises:When we do rehabilitative exercises, we strengthen and stabilize the muscles around the spine. This allows the spine to move better, and this, in conjunction with chiropractic adjustments, helps to get the disc and spine healthier.
Chiropractic treatment involves adjustments, which are a very gentle, effective way of moving the spine from the misalignment, or the bad position, into the good position and increasing the range of motion and flexibility of the joints. As we adjust the spine and get it into a better position, we’re very effective at shifting the disc material away from the nerve, taking the pressure off the nerve, alleviating the symptom. So obviously as we start to adjust somebody’s spine, we’re increasing motion and correcting the misalignment of the spine, which helps to get the disc healthier and stops, or prevents, the degeneration from progressing, as well as taking pressure off the nerves. We also get people to start doing rehabilitative exercises. This helps to prevent people from going to surgery.
When someone comes in and they have a disc problem there are three phases to care:
- Phase 1:
The first phase, and the first goal, is to get the pressure off the nerves — in other words to decrease the pain. Only 10% of your nervous system feels pain, so once we get someone out of pain and they feel better, they are basically 10% fixed, just patched up at that point.
- Phase 2:
Phase two is the corrective phase. As we continue to adjust the spine and do rehabilitative exercises to strengthen and stabilize the spine, and correct the problem as much as possible. Getting as much pressure as possible off the nervous system.
- Phase 3:
The third phase would be more wellness and preventative care. This means, once we correct the problem, if you keep the spine in a good position, keep it moving properly, it is going to help prevent further progression of disc degeneration, disc herniation, and help keep your spine healthy!
At Kempsville Chiropractic, we provide chiropractic care for herniated discs and other related problems on a daily basis. Contact us at 757.467.5258 to arrange for a consultation. Please recommend this article to share the information with your friends and family.
- Can Sitting Too Much Kill You?
- Understanding Chiropractic Care: The Cervical Spine (Neck)
- Understanding Chiropractic Care: The Lumbar Spine (Lower Back)
- Treating Sciatica and Sciatic Nerve Pain
- Neck Pain
- Lower Back Pain
Great Results from a Study of 27 patients with Cervical & Lumbar Disc Herniations.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) published an article reviewing the results of 27 patients who started receiving chiropractic care in 1996 to deal with disabilities caused by disc herniations in the neck (cervical spine) or lower back (lumbar spine).
Prior to undergoing any chiropractic care, all 27 patients had MRI scans taken to confirm their herniations. In addition to the MRIs, they had clinical exams, and visual analog scores (scoring the severity of their problem). The patients received chiropractic care which included chiropractic adjustments, traction, flexion distraction, physiotherapy (physical therapy), and rehabilitative exercises. After their course of treatment was completed, they were once again evaluated with follow-up MRI scans, clinical exams and visual analog scores.
80% of the patients in the study had good clinical outcomes on their visual analog scores, and resolution of abnormal exam findings. 63% of the patients had their herniation reduced in size or completely resorbed disc herniation. In the end, 78% of the patients were able to return to work at the same occupation they were employed in prior to their disability.
Conclusion of the Study
The result of these 27 patients suggests that “chiropractic care may be a safe and helpful modality for the treatment of cervical and lumbar disc herniations.”
The Chiropractic Option
As the study clearly showed, for the vast majority of patients dealing with disc problems and herniations, chiropractic care is a better option than surgery. The non-invasive method of drug-free care provided by chiropractic is clearly a viable option to consider before any disc surgery. Surgery is a step that should never be taken hastily or without several medical opinions.
The doctors at Kempsville Chiropractic will be happy to consult with you about your disc problems. Call them at 757.467.5258.
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The contents of this website are based upon the opinions of Dr. Lombardozzi. The information on this site is not intended as medical advice. The information contained on this website is a sharing of knowledge based on the experience and research of Dr. Lombardozzi and his staff. Dr. Lombardozzi recommends that patients make their health care decisions after doing their research and consulting with a qualified health care professional.
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