Herniated disc, also known as a slipped disc, is a relatively common condition. It can occur on any part the spine, but most often affects the lower back or neck region.

Herniated disc most commonly develops as a result of the normal aging process. Other causes include overuse and trauma to the spine. Genetic factors also have a big contribution to the development of disc degeneration and sequence herniation.

In most cases, a small herniated disc will heal within six months with self-care measures. Treatment options include chiropractic, physical therapy, acupuncture, joint injections, and surgery.

What Is Disc Pain?

Spinal discs are cushion-like pads placed between the vertebrae. They act as shock absorbers protecting the spine by absorbing the impact of trauma and body weight, and prevent the bones in the spine from grinding against one another. They also are responsible for spine’s flexibility and make movements such as bending and twisting possible. 

Each disc has two components: strong outer layer called annulus fibrosus and soft, gel-like center, called nucleus pulposus. A herniated disc occurs when the outer layer tears or ruptures and the gel-like center leaks out of it, into the spinal canal. When this happens, protruded disc causes compression on the nerves or spinal cord and causes nerve inflammation by releasing chemical irritants, which is manifested as intense, disabling pain and alterations in sensation.

Usually over a time, the herniation shrinks, which leads to partial or complete pain relief. 

What Causes A Herniated Disc?

Sometimes discs can bulge or herniate spontaneously. Aging plays probably the most important role, but genetics, smoking, and a number of physical activities may lead to early disc degeneration.

The most common causes of herniated disc include:

  • Wear and tear changes – over the years discs dry out and aren’t as flexible as they once were.
  • Repetitive movements – Work, lifestyle, and certain sports activities (golf) put extra stress on the spine, especially the lower back, and cause further weakening of the discs.
  • Heavy lifting and lifting the wrong way – You can read about proper lifting techniques on our blog, and make sure you are doing everything correctly.
  • Injury – Any trauma on the spine wears a risk of disc damage.
  • Obesity 
  • Genetics – researches have showed that there are some genes that are more commonly present in individuals with disc degeneration

Herniated Disc Symptoms

Herniated disc symptoms may vary depending on the location of the herniation and severity of the injury. If the injury is minimal, little or no pain will be felt. If the disc ruptures, or the herniation is bigger, the pain usually is severe and unrelenting. 

Pain may radiate to the arm or leg if significant nerve impingement has occurred. Example of this kind of pain is sciatica, which  is caused by a herniated disc in the lumbar spine. 

Herniated disc symptoms usually include:

  • Dull to severe pain
  • Pain like an electric shock
  • Numbness, tingling or burning sensation
  • Muscle weakness or cramping
  • Altered reflexes
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control seek emergency medical care

How Is A Herniated Disc Diagnosed?

First, your chiropractor will ask you about your symptoms, any prior injuries or conditions, and determine if any lifestyle habits are causing the pain. The physical exam is performed in order to determine the source of the pain and seek for any muscle weakness or numbness.

Imaging tests are usually ordered to confirm the diagnosis. These include X-ray, MRI, myelogram, as well as Nerve Conduction Studies (NCS) and Electromyogram (EMG).

Do Herniated Discs Go Away?

When herniation is small, discs may heal on their own through a process called resorption. This means that the disc fragments are absorbed by the body.

When treatment is needed, there are many options. Herniated disc treatment include medication, rest, chiropractic care, acupuncture, physical therapy, home exercises, hydrotherapy, steroid injections and surgery. Even though most people suffering from herniated disc respond well to conservative treatments and do not require surgery.

According to the studies, up to 80% of the people with back pain improve in about 6 weeks after starting conservative treatment and return to normal activity. 

Self-care measures are the most important part of conservative treatment. This includes: rest, putting hot and cold pads on the spine, lying on flat surfaces and practicing stretching exercises. Some natural painkillers such as spicy foods like cayenne pepper and wasabi, peppermint oil or peppermint-lavender combo, Epsom salt, cannabis oil, ginger tea, and turmeric can also help.

Your doctor will prescribe over-the-counter painkillers and nonsteroid anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen sodium, muscle relaxants, and steroids, to relieve the pain and reduce the inflammation.

Epidural steroid injections – When your pain is severe, steroids are injected directly in the spine. The procedure is performed under x-ray and involves an injection of corticosteroids and a local anesthetic into the epidural space of the spine. This combination will reduce the swelling and inflammation of the nerves. The results tend to be temporary and better when done in conjunction with a chiropractic care, physical therapy and/or home exercise program.

Chiropractors can help you with easing the symptoms of a herniated disc, so it is important to consult one if you have this problem. Your San Francisco Chiropractor most likely will use spinal manipulation or spinal adjustment. In addition, he or she may also use ultrasound therapy and interferential electric stimulation.

Acupuncture can also help. Acupuncture may relax your muscles and relieve some of the pain.

Physical therapists can instruct you on proper posture, lifting, and walking techniques, and they can teach you exercises to strengthen your lower back, leg, and stomach muscles, and also encourage you to stretch and increase the flexibility of the spine.

Surgery treatments are an option if herniated disc symptoms do not significantly improve with conservative treatments. Herniated disc surgery may also be recommended if there are signs of nerve damage, such as weakness or loss of feeling in your legs. Most people with a herniated disc do not require surgical treatment.

How To Prevent A Herniated Disc

Our success rates are very high. If you are looking for herniated disc pain relief and would like to find out if you are a candidate for our treatment we would like to meet you. To schedule an appointment with our San Francisco chiropractor, please call 415–415–1115 or book an appointment online.

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