Your spine is the body’s central support structure; if something goes wrong, it can affect the entire body. The most common condition that affects the spine is a herniated disc.
A comprehensive study shows there are about 5 to 20 cases of herniated or slipped discs per every 1,000 adults annually. Moreover, they most commonly affect people between 30–50 years old.
Though a herniated disc itself is painful, the symptoms don’t always end there and might affect other body parts. In severe cases, a surgical correction might be the best course of treatment. However, in the initial stages, there are treatments that can reduce pain symptoms and move the disc back into the correct position along the spinal cord.
This detailed article will help you learn everything about a herniated disc, including the symptoms, causes, and how to treat it without surgical intervention.
What Is a Herniated Disc?
In between each of the 26 vertebrae bones that collectively make your spine, there are small jelly-like structures known as discs. The primary function of these discs is to provide cushioning for the vertebrae while minimizing stress caused by the impact of movement.
A herniated disc occurs when a whole disc or part of a disc, usually in the lower spine, has slipped out of place and is now putting pressure on nearby nerves. The protruding area of the disc can compress the sciatic nerve, causing pain across the hip muscles and possibly even in the back and hamstring muscles. A slipped disc might also put pressure on other nerves, causing painful symptoms throughout the body.
Generally, herniated discs affect the lower back (herniated lumbar disc), but some patients experience it in the middle of the spinal column (herniated thoracic disc) or in the back of the neck (herniated cervical disc).
How Common Is a Herniated Disc?
Disc protrusions are surprisingly very common, and it’s important to realize that even overall healthy people experience them. A recent study showed that almost one-third of 20-year-olds who got CT scans or MRIs for back pain had a herniated disc.
The chances of suffering a slipped disc increase as people age, and the severity of the herniated disc symptoms also increase in intensity as people get older. Furthermore, the study showed that every second person at or above the age of 80 with lower back pain had a herniated disc.
While the statistics infer that disc protrusion is fairly prevalent, not everyone affected by it experiences the same symptoms. Some patients report acute pain, while some say numbness is their biggest concern.
Do you suffer from lower back or neck pain and suspect it could be due to a herniated disc? Do imaging scans show a disc protrusion, but not a severe case? Chiropractic care is an effective approach to relieving pain, reducing inflammation, and alleviating other slipped disc symptoms.
What Are the Symptoms of a Herniated Disc?
Most often, a herniated disc occurs in the lower back because it experiences the most wear. However, a disc might slip out from the intervertebral disc space anywhere along the spine and cause discomfort throughout the body.
The signs and symptoms of a slipped disc depend on the specific area it has affected and against which nerve the disc is pressing. Herniated discs usually affect one side of the body, but the symptoms can be felt on both sides in some cases.
Some common symptoms of a slipped disc include:
Arm or Leg Pain
If you have a lumbar herniated disc, in addition to lower back pain, you may experience pain in your hips, buttocks, thighs, and calves. If not treated in a timely manner, the pain can even radiate down to your feet.
Some patients with a protruding disc higher on the spine have reported pain radiating from the neck to the shoulder and then to the arm. Pain might shoot down your leg or arm when you sneeze, cough, or move into a prone position. Most patients with bulging discs describe the pain as burning or sharp.
As the disc protrudes, it can put stress on the surrounding nerves, resulting in a condition known as a pinched nerve or compressed nerve. One of the more prevalent symptoms of compressed nerves is muscle weakness since the brain has trouble sending signals to the affected nerve. The weakness can cause you to stumble or lose your ability to lift or hold items.
Tingling or Numbness
Patients with disc protrusion often complain about numbness or tingling in parts of their bodies. The primary reason behind feeling these sensations is a pinched nerve.
For example, if the nerve going to your arm gets compressed due to a herniated disc, you might experience tingling in your forearm.
Pain That Worsens After Sitting or Standing
Your spine experiences stress as you move to sit or stand. When there is a disc herniation, the pressure transfers to the surrounding nerves causing pain. This stress also results in increased friction at other times, which is why people with a herniated disc experience pain while doing certain movements.
The symptoms of a herniated disc greatly vary depending on the starting position of the disc, the severity of the protrusion, the age of the patient, and more. A serious lumbar disc herniation can even potentially cause problems with bladder or bowel control.
If you are experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms, seek medical help at the earliest opportunity. A skilled chiropractor can safely administer spinal adjustments, physical therapy, herniated disc exercises, and other treatments to relieve pain and move the disc back into place.
What Causes a Herniated Disc?
A disc bulge occurs when some of the internal soft tissues present in the spine slip out through the crack in the fibrous lining of the disc.
While finding the exact cause behind the bulged disc is challenging, many patients have disc protrusion because of gradual wear or injury.
Below is a classification of some causes of a herniated disc.
Overuse and Wear
Repeated movements of the back can be responsible for pushing the disc out of its place. It is one reason the condition is more common in older people. When you engage in regular movements such as standing or sitting, your spinal cord experiences stress.
As the discs become weaker over time, they fail to bear the stress of movement and as a result, protrusion might occur.
The next most common cause of a herniated disc is injury. Traumatic injuries, such as a fall or blow to the back, can result in the disc slipping out. Although you might feel fine at first, the protrusion can worsen and require surgical intervention if not treated.
These are the primary causes of a herniated disc. However, there are some factors that increase the risk of getting a protruded disc. The factors also increase the severity of the symptoms, such as pain radiating from the affected area to other body parts. Some of these factors include:
According to a report, individuals may inherit a gene variation that increases the risk of getting intervertebral disc disease. The condition is characterized by the breakdown of one or more of the discs, which become prone to herniation.
Excess body weight increases the stress on the spine, especially in the lower back area. With time, the discs start degenerating and become unable to bear the stress. This leads to the disc bulging out.
- Not Exercising
Sitting at a desk for hours and not being active increases the chances of getting a herniated disc. Also, when you don’t work out, the spine becomes weak and even a small external push can make a disc slip out.
For people that do strenuous jobs that involve lifting heavy weights, pulling, pushing, and other repetitive motions, the chances of getting a disc protrusion are high.
What Are the Different Stages of Disc Herniation?
According to the degree of hernia, a slipped disc is classified into four types. Each classification has different severity of pain, and the disability increases as the stages progress. The treatment pattern for each stage is also different.
The four stages of disc herniation are:
- Bulging disc
- Disc protrusion
- Disc sequestration
Stage 1: Bulging Disc
Disc herniation starts with a bulging disc, where the nucleus pulposus (jelly-like center of a disc) slightly bulges out and pushes the fibrous annulus (tough fibrous exterior of a disc), putting a little pressure on your nerves.
During this stage, the outer covering of the disc is still intact and there are no signs of cracking or tearing.
Symptoms of a Bulging Disc
The symptoms of the first stage aren’t that severe. Patients with disc herniation in the first stage experience mild pain intermittently. You might feel uncomfortable while walking and running. Some patients do experience pain or a pulling sensation while doing more strenuous activities.
As the symptoms are mild, a bulging disc shouldn’t hamper daily life.
Stage 2: Disc Protrusion
During the second stage, the bulged disc tears the outer fibrous annulus layer and slightly comes out of its natural circumference. This puts more pressure on the nearby nerves, causing more pain and more symptoms.
In this stage, the outer fibrous annulus remains intact, but the nucleus pulposus gets out of shape.
Symptoms of Disc Protrusion
The symptoms of disc protrusion are similar to what you experience during the bulging disc stage. However, the degree of these symptoms increases to a large extent. You will experience some amount of pain while sitting, standing, walking, and running.
Also, the second stage begins to take a toll on your daily activities; you might have trouble driving or sitting for long hours.
If you treat a herniated disc at this stage, you can prevent it from getting worse. Surgical intervention is not required at this stage; you can get relief with the help of chiropractic care.
Book your appointment with the best chiropractors in Oak Brook to alleviate pain and other symptoms of a disco protrusion. You can also call us at 630-317-7478 to discuss your condition and explore the available treatment options.
Stage 3: Disc Extrusion
Disc extrusion is the stage where you start experiencing most symptoms of a herniated disc. Extrusion means that the bulged disc tears the outer layer and the nucleus pulposus comes out. Due to the sudden protrusion, the nerves surrounding the disc get severely compressed and you’ll feel sharp pain.
During this stage, most patients find it difficult to walk, sit, and do other activities of daily life because of pain and muscle-pulling sensations.
Symptoms of Disc Extrusion
As the nerves are compressed, you might experience various symptoms, such as unbearable pain in the lower back (lumbar spine), legs, and arms. Patients with disc extrusion might also become bedridden; even slight movement can trigger pain. They often experience swelling, inflammation, and other symptoms related to inactivity.
Since stage three classifies as severe, it becomes difficult to reverse the herniated disc through non-invasive methods such as spinal correction.
Stage 4: Disc Sequestration
During the fourth stage, the bulged nucleus pulposus (that came out from its place in stage three) detaches from the spine. It can create various problems by dislodging into the spinal canal, causing severe compression on the nerves, or pushing other discs.
Symptoms of Disc Sequestration
Along with being bedridden, patients experience excruciating pain. Plus, the likelihood of paralysis increases if you don’t opt for surgical intervention.
How to Relieve Pain Caused by a Herniated Disc
Reversing the effect of a herniated disc isn’t possible without external help from chiropractors, physical therapists, and other medical professionals. However, you can get some relief from the pain and reduce inflammation by trying the tips listed below.
Apply an Ice Pack or Heating Pad to Reduce Inflammation
You can reduce mild herniated disk pain by minimizing inflammation. Applying an ice or heat pack to the affected area is a good way to reduce the inflammation temporarily.
Take 10–15 minutes to use the ice or heat pack treatment and find some relief. If the pain persists, it would be wise to consult an expert chiropractor in Oak Brook.
Minimize Pressure on the Herniated Disc
The herniation of a disc worsens if there is constant pressure on the affected area. The easiest way to reduce stress is to maintain a good posture. If you have a sedentary job, get lumbar support. Make sure your back remains straight and you feel comfortable while you work.
Moreover, avoid lifting heavy weights or doing demanding tasks such as pulling or pushing. Here’s a helpful video on how office workers can minimize back pain.
Do Specific Exercises and Stretches for Herniated Disc
Not keeping your spine healthy and strong is another cause of a herniated disc. If you are in the initial stages, introduce herniated disc stretches and exercises into your life to experience relief from pain and other symptoms.
Movements such as a knee-to-chest stretch, a bridge with the knees bent, a side plank, a piriformis muscle stretch, and more can help you strengthen your spine, reducing the risk of developing a herniated disc in a severe stage. You can speak to a physical therapist to learn these exercises and practice them at home.
See a Chiropractor
Some at-home treatment methods can help you experience temporary relief. However, seeing a chiropractor can help you get permanent results.
Chiropractors and physical therapists begin by assessing your condition, such as determining the stage of protrusion. These professionals will create a detailed treatment plan based on your unique condition and the symptoms you are experiencing.
How Do Chiropractors Evaluate the Overall Condition of a Herniated Disc
Along with using advanced imaging methods such as X-ray and CT scans, chiropractors may use a wide range of other methods to evaluate the condition of a protruded disc. When you visit Oak Brook Medical Group, we start the process with an initial consultation and one of our practitioners will check the following:
- If your reflexes are normal
- If you are experiencing loss of sensation and numbness
- If there are signs of muscle weakness or decreased muscle strength
Depending on the findings, we create a unique treatment plan addressing the main symptoms, such as pain, numbness, and more.
What Treatments Do Chiropractors Use to Treat a Herniated Disc?
Once the physician determines that you are fit to undergo spinal manipulation, they will start the treatment. There are treatments and therapies that chiropractors in Oak Brook can use to treat a protruded disc, including:
There are several exercises that help improve the symptoms of a bulged disc. A physical therapist can help you learn and practice these exercises to strengthen the abdominal muscles and torso in order to provide better spine support.
Physical therapy programs offered at the Oak Brook Medical Group also include the following:
- Stretching exercises
- Massage therapy
- Ice and heat therapies
- Aerobic exercises (riding a stationary bike or walking)
Trigger Point Injections
A prospective comparative study showed that patients with a lumbar disc herniation who underwent trigger point injection treatment experienced better results than those who only received oral medication and did herniated disc exercises.
After assessing your condition, the staff at Oak Brook Medical Group can recommend and use trigger point injections to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and alleviate other symptoms caused by disc protrusion.
General Chiropractic Care
Chiropractic care, such as spinal manipulation, helps strengthen the spine while improving the flexibility of surrounding muscles. A healthy spine supported by strong back and stomach muscles is less prone to developing a bulge. Also, general chiropractic care can reverse a disc herniation if it’s in the initial stages.
The methods chiropractors use for treating a herniated disc are:
This type of spinal manipulation technique is aimed at reducing the pressure on your discs. Chiropractors use a specialized table to stretch the spine in order to alleviate pain and other symptoms. They then apply light force on the affected area in a pumping rhythm.
The flexion-distraction technique is a completely non-invasive treatment and is entirely pain-free. It helps to gently pull the herniated disc away from the pinched nerve root, minimizing pain, numbness, and tingling.
Pelvic Blocking Treatment
During this treatment, chiropractors place multiple specialized cushions around your pelvis as you lie in a prone position to draw the protruded disc away from the affected nerve. Apart from alleviating symptoms of a herniated disc, this treatment also helps chiropractors treat other conditions, such as headaches and other body pains.
Get Treatment From the Best Chiropractors Near You
A herniated disc in the final stages will have severe symptoms and require surgical intervention. It’s essential to seek chiropractic care as soon as possible when you first experience symptoms in order to stop the problem from progressing to this point.
At Oak Brook Medical Group, we have a team of highly qualified chiropractors and other professionals that can assess and provide treatment for a herniated disc. We use several non-invasive and minimally invasive techniques to alleviate the symptoms and move the disc back into place.