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Disc Problems

Intervertebral discs are spongy cushions found between the vertebrae of the spine. These discs have a number of important functions including shock absorption, keeping the vertebral column stable, and offering the vertebrae ‘pivot points’ to allow movement. A disc is made of two parts: the elastic outer shell (annulus fibrosis) and the jelly-like contents (nucleus pulposis). Common disc-related problems include degenerative disc disease and ruptured (or ‘slipped’) disc.

The symptoms of a damaged disc can vary according to its location and severity, but general signs include:

  • Severe, localized pain.
  • Pain radiating down the legs.
  • Worsening pain associated with bending over or sitting down for a long time.
  • Worsening pain associated with activities like coughing or sneezing.
  • Numbness or pins and needles in an arm or leg.

Risk factors
Some people are more susceptible to disc problems than others. Risk factors include:
disc Disc Problems

  • Obesity
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Lack of regular exercise
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Advancing age
  • Poor posture
  • Incorrect lifting techniques.

Often there is no recognizable risk factor present.

Degenerative disc disease
The discs of a young child are plump, but the water content reduces with age until the discs are comparatively thin and hard. Bony growths called bone spurs may develop around the discs. In many cases, these age-related changes cause no problems, but some people experience a painful condition called degenerative disc disease. The most common symptom is back pain caused by holding the same position (either sitting or standing) for too long.

Ruptured disc
The term ‘slipped disc’ suggests that a disc has moved out of position; however, this is not correct. The discs are held firmly in place by various structures (including ligaments, muscles and the vertebrae themselves), so the term ‘slipped disc’ is misleading. Terms like ‘ruptured’, ‘herniated’ or ‘prolapsed’ describe the situation better. A crack in the tough outer shell of the disc allows the soft jelly-like contents to ooze out. The most common site for a ruptured disc is the lower back, and chronic lower backache is the usual symptom. As we get older, the risk of rupturing a disc declines, simply because the discs dry out and the contents are less able to ooze through any cracks.

Sciatica is nerve pain from the sciatic nerve that runs from the spine into the buttock and down the back of the leg. A common cause of sciatica is a ruptured disc. The spinal cord has room to slide up and down inside the spinal column whenever the body moves. However, a bulging disc can protrude into the spinal column and press against the spinal cord, causing pain.

Diagnosis methods
Diagnosis of disc problems generally involves:

  • Taking of a medical history (to determine risk factors or predisposing conditions etc).
  • Physical examination, including orthopedic and neurological tests.

spine2 Disc Problems

Treatment options
Some common treatments include:

  • Chiropratic spinal manipulation.
  • Heat / Ice theropy.
  • Regular massage.
  • Exercise program designed to improve strength and flexibility.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, when needed.
  • Pain-killing medication, when needed.
  • Uncommonly, in severe cases of ruptured disc, an operation may be needed to trim the protruding bulge (laminectomy). Surgery should always be considered a last resort.
  • Also uncommonly, in severe cases of degenerative disc disease, an operation may be needed to remove the disc and fuse together the two vertebrae on either side.

Self-help suggestions
Ongoing maintenance chiropractic care can reduce the risk of disc problems in the future. Be guided by your doctor or health professional, but general suggestions include:

  • Try not to sit still for long periods of time.
  • Avoid lifting heavy objects.
  • Remember that movements such as bending and twisting (especially at the same time) can increase pressure on your damaged disc.
  • Work on increasing your abdominal strength. Strong stomach muscles help to support the back.
  • Pay attention to posture while sitting, standing and walking.
  • Flexibility exercises, performed regularly, can improve mobility and help reduce muscle tension and back pain.
  • Include a gentle program of back strengthening exercises.
  • Yoga is recommended by some practitioners as an excellent form of strengthening and stretching for people with back problems.

How we can help

Chiropractic care can gently help restore normal spinal motion and even ease that bulging disc back into place. This will give long lasting relief and allow proper healing, helping you or your loved one avoid a relapse and a potential lifetime of reoccurring low back pain. Call us today and let us help you take control of your health!