Recent studies show that spinal intervertebral disc problems constitute only a small portion of the causes of back pain and rarely require surgery for pain relief. It is important to see your doctor for a proper diagnosis and effective treatment with minimal risks. What are spinal intervertebral discs? The spinal discs are ligaments (structures connecting bones) that attach to the top and bottom of each vertebra in the spine. They consist of a center nucleus surrounded by fibrous rings called the annulus fibrosis. The discs provide shock absorption and mobility, protecting the spine and spinal cord, as well as a fulcrum for movement ensuring flexibility of the spine. What are the most common disc issues?
- A disc “bulge” occurs when slight tears in the outermost fibers of an annulus fibrosis cause bulging of the disc outwards. These small tears can be painful for a short time.
- A disc protrusion/extrusion, also referred to as a “herniation,” is a more severe injury and occurs when there is a complete tear of the fibers of the annulus fibrosis and some of the nucleus leaks through. A disc herniation can be painful and may cause compression of the nerve root or spinal cord.
- The most common disc issue in adults is degenerative disc disease. This occurs when the disc nucleus dehydrates and develops small tears. The disc space and the space between vertebra narrows and Osteophytes (bone spurs) form along the edges of the vertebra. The most recent evidence shows that there is a hereditary link to the development of degenerative disc disease, but it is also caused by trauma/injury.
What are common signs and symptoms of disc issues? Common signs of disc issues include, but are not limited to:
- Neck pain
- Back pain with radiating symptoms in either arms or legs
How are disc issues treated? Fortunately, most disc issues are easily treated with conservative care. In the early stages of an acute injury, your chiropractic doctor will likely set a goal of pain control, using several different physical therapies to achieve it. Both ice and heat are effective in managing the pain of acute low-back injury and your chiropractor will help you determine which is most effective for you. Getting you back on your feet and moving as quickly as is safely possible is critical to the rehabilitation process and long-term results. Your chiropractor will help you find the balance in your physical activity throughout the phases of healing in a way that is careful not to re-aggravate the injury, but effective in regaining mobility, strength, and stability. Too often, patients who do not seek help during these critical phases of healing are not being active enough to promote proper rehabilitation, or are overly active and re-aggravate the injury. Chiropractic spinal manipulation has also been demonstrated to be safe and effective in the management of disc problems. Manipulation is especially effective when combined with therapeutic exercise. In most cases, spinal surgery and injections are not necessary and often yield high risks. Your chiropractor will discuss all available treatment options with you and help you decide which the best course of action is. Can disc problems be prevented? Although proper exercise will help strengthen and protect your back, studies show that staying fit and proper body mechanics alone will not prevent injury. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that individuals do not lift more than 50 lbs. Activities that require awkward or prolonged postures and repetitive stresses place individuals at higher risk for musculoskeletal disorders and disc problems regardless of body mechanics and fitness level. Your chiropractor can perform an ergonomic assessment of your work and home activities to help you avoid injury. It is also important to have “spinal awareness” and make conscious efforts to maintain proper posture whether you are sitting, standing, working, exercising, or lying down. Talk to your chiropractor about your daily activities and how you can avoid costly back