The spinal bones, or vertebrae, which comprise the spinal column are joined together by cartilage discs. Each disc in the spine consists of a circle of connective tissue with a central jelly-like core.
“Slipped disc” is most frequently used as an informal and misleading name for the condition known as spinal disc herniation. The term is not medically accurate as the spinal discs are firmly attached between the vertebrae and cannot actually “slip” out of place.
There are many different terms used to describe spinal disc pathology and associated pain, such as “herniated disc”, “pinched nerve”, “protruding disc” and “bulging disc”, and all are used differently by doctors.
Unfortunately, there is no agreement in the healthcare field as to the precise definition of any of these terms, and patients are often frustrated when they hear their diagnosis referred to in various terms by different practitioners.
A bulging disc is a smaller protrusion of the central nuclear material (the jelly-like substance), still contained by some of the outer annular fibers. A herniated disc is one that has ruptured through the annulus.
It is really a difference of degree.
This protrusion may press on the spinal cord or on the nerve roots, giving rise to severe pain often radiating down the leg or arm (depending on the area of the spine affected) and restricted movement in the spinal joints.
However, it is worthwhile noting that over 20% of the Irish population have herniated discs at any one time that they are not even aware of because they are not pressing on the spinal cord or on nerve roots and are, therefore, causing no discomfort.
What causes a herniated disc?
A herniated disc can occur for many reasons.
Herniated discs are often seen following trauma such as a road traffic accident or an injury from a fall. More often than not, however, they occur as a result of advancing age.
The general wear and tear on the circle of connective tissue causes it to weaken and allows the soft jelly-like core to swell and bulge out.
There is some evidence to suggest that very hard physical labour over a prolonged period of time can increase the likelihood of a slipped disc.
Herniated discs almost always happen in the lower back and occasionally occur in the neck.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms can be one or more of the following:
- Pain spreading over the buttocks, down the back of one thigh, and into the calf.
- Pain may be in one leg (more common) or both legs.
- Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the legs or feet.
- Numbness, tingling, or weakness in one or both arms.
- In severe cases, inability to find comfort even lying down.
- Sudden aching or twisted neck that cannot be straightened without severe pain.
- Bowel or bladder changes and/or numbness in the groin.
Treatments for a herniated disc can range from chiropractic care, to anti-inflammatory medication, to cortisone shots to surgery. Because back surgery is extremely invasive and not always totally successful in correcting the problem, you may prefer to seek out the services of a doctor of chiropractic first. We can provide safe and effective corrective spinal treatment and exercise rehabilitation in order to treat and prevent disc injuries – contact us.
Be aware that few treatments – even chiropractic treatment – can make up for years of abuse and neglect of spinal health that many people endure. Poor nutrition, poor posture, lack of proper exercise, and even incorrect lifting methods are among the many ways the spine suffers abuse.
Early diagnosis and conservative treatment is the best way to begin correcting the pain suffered from a herniated disc.