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Disc Herniation and Slipped Disc

Disc Herniation

“Disc injuries” is a general term for conditions such as herniated disc, slipped disc, or bulging disc which sometimes cause sciatic pain down the leg along the path of the sciatic nerve. Chiropractors are the experts in helping you determine the cause of your pain and determine the proper treatment.

What is a disc herniation?

Between the bones in your back are discs that act as shock absorbents for the bones in your back. Due to injury, the disc can be pushed out of place or herniated. When it is herniated, it can press on the spinal cord and/or the spinal nerves that exit the spine between the bones in your back.

These nerves in the low back travel down the legs and the hips to the muscles and other joints. When the disc presses on the nerves, it can irritate or pinch the nerves and cause pain and/or numbness in the hips, legs, and/or feet. The herniated disc in the lower back can also irritate the nerves that travel to the bowel and bladder causing constipation or bladder problems.

The nerves in the neck travel across your shoulder and down your arm to your fingers. This can cause shoulder, arm, wrist, hand, or finger pain and/or numbness. This can also mimic the pain and numbness that is usually associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. The disc herniation can also cause inflammation and swelling in the area of the herniation that can cause intense pain in your back or neck. 

What causes a disc herniation?

There are many bad habits and lifestyles that can cause a disc herniation. The most common way to cause a disc herniation in the low back is to lift an item and to twist your upper back while lifting. Most people think that it is the actual weight of the item that matters but the position of the back is the crucial factor. The combination of bending and twisting puts the lower back area in the most vulnerable position with the least amount of protection and THAT is the factor to consider.

In addition to lifting and twisting, lifting objects with your back instead of your legs can place extreme pressure on the discs in the low back causing them to herniate.

Another cause of disc herniation is arthritis in the spine. A form of arthritis called degenerative disc disease, also known as Osteoarthritis, can cause a disc to herniate due to the condition of the vertebra and uneven pressure placed on the discs over time. The degenerative joint disease and the uneven pressure placed on the discs is caused as a result of “mis-alignments” in your spine and os not related to the age of the person! This misalignment can come from an old injury that was never properly attended to. Treatment to get rid of pain and bringing some function back to the joint is not the complete resolution of the problem. THAT is when the integrity of the structure and joint is compromised. Let me explain, if you have a door hanging on the frame crocked, it will be a short time before you will see a wear and tear at the edges of the door where it hits the frame. It is a new door, misaligned and showing wear and tear! On the other hand, an old door, sitting on its frame properly after many years, shows the aged wood and no wear and tear because all those years it was sitting on its frame properly. Of course, most people don’t attend to their spinal hygiene like they attend their dental hygiene so it is easy to have long term issues without any pain but the silent destruction of the joint and tissue takes place all along. Remember, not every case of gum disease starts with pain! It becomes painful when the disease has progressed!

When the bones in your back are not lined up, they cause uneven pressure on the disc between them and they will pull on the muscles and other soft tissue attached to them unevenly. This can cause inflammation in the area and over time, cause degenerative joint disease.

An unhealthy diet can also play a role in causing disc herniation. An unhealthy diet can contribute to disc herniation because your disc needs hydration and nutrients to stay healthy and help maintain its shape and shock absorption function. In addition, a diet full of sugar and processed foods can result in excess inflammation in your body which can cause increased inflammation in your joints.

Lack of exercise can cause disc herniation because the muscles that are out of shape will not properly support your discs and spinal bones in the neck and back. This lack of support can lead to bad posture. Bad posture places uneven and increased pressure on the discs. This can also lead to “mis-alignments” in your neck and back. Don’t be a couch potato- movement is extremely vital. If you want to see what your posture looks like simply follow the instruction here and I will take a look… my treat for you trying to stay proactive.

Prolonged wearing of high heel shoes can also place uneven and increased pressure on the discs in the low back. It is okay to wear high heels occasionally (well it really is not, but I am trying to not freak you out!), but make sure that you give those important discs in your back a break to avoid injury.

Sitting for long periods of time can cause herniated discs due to poor posture. Poor posture leads to uneven and increased pressure on the discs leading to injury. Take micro breaks from sitting and  use an air cushion which you can find a video to below.

Straining while having a bowel movement or simply coughing can result in a disc herniation because these two actions increase internal pressure on the discs. Bear in mind that this is a case of “the straw that broke the camels back”!!

How can I prevent disc herniation?

Preventing a disc herniation is easy. Simply try to avoid the causes of a disc herniation. As seen above, the causes of a disc herniation are:

  • Lifting while twisting
  • Lifting with your back instead of with your legs
  • Arthritis
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Prolonged wearing of high heels
  • Prolonged sitting 
  • Straining while having a bowel movement and coughing simultaneously

Probably the most important thing that you can do to avoid a disc herniation is to keep your core and back muscles in shape with regular exercise and to receive regular chiropractic adjustments to keep your spine lined-up and moving properly. Yoga is a wonderful and effective exercise to build up strength and support in your neck and back to avoid a disc herniation injury. Visit my YouTube Channel to see all of my recommended exercises that are essential for a healthy back and disc.

What are the treatment options for disc herniation?

While surgery is always in the background thought of people with disc herniation, conservative treatment shows to be highly effective in avoiding surgery and bringing activity back into life. In my practice, I see many patients that are referred to me as their last resort and thankfully they never get to have a surgery. Chiropractic adjustments may sound scary but the type of adjustment that most people associate chiropractic to is not the only method of adjusting patients. In fact, manual or diversified adjustment where the neck or lower back is twisted is NOT the adjustment of choice. Once the patient is adjusted and the level of pain has diminished, functional rehabilitation exercises are introduced. 

ART or Active Release Technique is a great example of functional rehabilitation that I use to treat the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that have learned to work out of sync with the required movement and function of the joint, leading to further issues. I have written a blog on ART that you can read.

Cold laser is a great pain-free option for decreasing acute pain from a herniated disc injury. Cold laser treatments create energy and increase blood flow in the injured area to help generate healing.

Now talking about diet is a whole different ballgame. Since this blog is not about choosing the right diet for you, I absolutely encourage you to read about Metabolic Typing.

Some chiropractic offices may offer spinal decompression therapy. I am not a big fan of decompression therapy because while the traction is taking place, there is no way to see if the ligaments and soft tissue between each spinal bone or vertebra are relaxed enough to further the traction. The curvature of the neck and lower back require an individual assessment of the computer system of the decompression unit for each vertebra. I have not seen any machine that does which is a reason why I do not provide decompression therapy in my office.

Throughout the chiropractic treatment plan, I help my patients in restoring good posture with chiropractic adjustments, specific exercises, and pain-free and easy to do brain-based neurology and posture retraining. To understand more about your brain, posture, alignment and preventing disc disease read this.

Check out the other blogs I have written and do know that you are the Designer and the Director of your own life, so design and direct it the way you wish to live it.

Dr. Shakib