Have you ever been minding your own business, when you suddenly felt a sharp pain in your back? Sometimes you’ll be relaxing or watching TV and feel a jolt when you stand up to get more popcorn. You might be wondering where on earth the pain came from. Or what could possibly be wrong with your back. You may even be afraid you have a herniated disc. Frankly, it isn’t out of the question.
What is a herniated disc and do you need to seek treatments for herniated disc? First, let’s explain what a disc actually is.
Your spine has 33 individual bony vertebral segments. Between each segment is a cushion. The cushion has a somewhat firm outer covering surrounding a soft gel type of substance. It’s sort of like a jelly-filled donut from your favorite bake shop. Because these cushions of gel are somewhat delicate, they can rip or rupture, allowing some of the gel to be forced through the tear. This can result in the disc itself beginning to slip from between the vertebrae in a condition called a herniated, ruptured or slipped disc. Without these discs, you can not bend your spine but if the discs themselves are a problem, nerves can be irritated. A slipped disc often causes weakness, numbness or pain in an extremity. Occasionally, the injury isn’t apparent and no symptoms will show at all.
The good news is that, most of the time, a herniated disc will not need surgery to repair.
Causes of Disc Herniation
Many times, disc herniation is not the result of a single, easily identified incident. It is usually more of a gradual wear and tear on the discs, a process called disc degeneration. Disc Degeneration is quite common as you get older. With age comes a decrease in the water inside the discs, which makes them far less flexible and much more brittle. These changes mean that your discs will be easier to tear or rupture with very little strain or stress, sometimes even just by twisting.
Injury can happen by improper lifting techniques, such as lifting with the back instead of the legs when picking up heavy, awkward objects. Turning or twisting the wrong way is also a cause of disc herniation, especially when combined with improper lifting.
It is far less likely, though not impossible, that disc herniation can be traced to a single event like an accident, direct hit on the spine, or a fall.
Symptoms and Signs of a Herniated Disc
While most disc herniations will occur in the lumbar spine, or lower back, they can also happen higher up on the neck, along the cervical spine.
Obvious signs of disc herniation will include pain that isn’t always at the origin of the injured disc. In fact, depending on where the herniated disc is, you may feel the worst of the pain along your thigh, calf, buttocks and even the foot. These are common spots for pain when the herniation is in the lower back. For a herniated disc in the neck, you may feel pain along the arm or shoulder. In these cases, the simple act of sneezing, coughing or just moving can cause pain in your extremities.
People with herniated discs will frequently come to the doctor with complaints of weakness in the muscles. This happens because of damage to the nerves servicing the muscles, and may cause falls, stumbles, and even disability. It may be difficult for you to hold objects, or to lift them.
Numbness and tingling are commonly reported by people who are suffering a herniated disc. The pins and needles sensations are most common in the areas serviced by the irritated nerves.
Some people have disc herniation without any symptoms at all. In these cases, the discovery of the herniation is usually almost an accident, only noted when an image is taken for other reasons.
Seeing a Doctor for Treatments for your Herniated Disc
Anytime you have a pain in your back or neck that radiates to an extremity, you should consult a doctor. Likewise, make an appointment if the pain also has weakness, tingling or numbness associated with it.
Your doctor has many ways to diagnose a herniated disc. The first thing he will do, obviously, is examine you to pinpoint your pain. His findings may be enough to support the diagnosis of a herniated disc. Yet, many times, your doctor may want to go a step further to find out exactly what nerves are affected. This will also help him rule out any other causes for your discomfort.
Common tests your doctor may order to help him conclude you have a disc herniation may include:
A CAT scan is a very thorough X Ray. It takes multiple pictures of your back at once. Then the CAT scan puts the pictures together so your doctor can visualize the spinal cord and surrounding vertebrae.
An X-ray is the doctor’s first line of diagnosis. While it can’t show the disc itself, it can help your provider rule out other causes of your pain, like a tumor or a fracture.
The MRI is a very advanced test that uses a magnetic field, radio waves, and a specialized computer to show your spine in full 3-D view for the doctor to get a very detailed look at your spine. MRIs can show your doctor the exact location of your disc herniation as well as showing him which nerves are affected by the condition.
A myelogram is a dye-enhanced X Ray. Any injuries become very apparent with the injection of a dye directly into your spinal fluid.
These tests are run together. The first, the Electromyogram, is used to trace the electricity that your muscles use when they expand or contract. An electrode is placed directly into the musculature itself and tracks all electrical activity within it.
The Nerve Conduction Study traces the amount of time it takes a nerve impulse to travel from one point to another in your body. Electrical impulses stimulate nerves in one area, so the doctor can monitor another area for reactions. A significant lapse in time from the introduction of an impulse to recognition by another electrode signals complications to your herniated disc. This could mean damage to the surrounding nerves.
Chiropractor Treatments for Herniated Disc Pain
No one wants surgery. We’ll even bet you would prefer to ease your pain without the aid of pain killers. At Crist Chiropractic, our goal is to help you safely and naturally treat your herniated disc. We’re here to get you back on track quickly, without pain medications or surgery.
Treatments for herniated disc may include gentle manipulation. Spinal decompression can free the compressed or herniated disc and the irritated nerves. Other treatment methods will include pain relief and strengthening exercises. We can even give you a customized approach to pain killers that assists your healing without creating dependency.
If you think your back pain may be from a herniated disc, it is better to seek treatment fast. Living with the pain can cause lasting damage to nerves or other spinal structures. A chiropractor near you, like Crist Chiropractic, can offer pain relief, so you can live better now!