So, you or someone you know has a herniated disc. What now? What exactly is a herniated disc? Why did it happen? A disc herniation can also be called a slipped disc and there are two main reasons why a disc bulges and herniates, the first one is repetitive stress. Take a look at the type of day most people have. We all do a job that’s fairly repetitive whether that’s sitting at a computer all day long or bending and lifting, even driving for long periods of time. Whatever the case may be, most jobs are repetitive and over time doing that job for 10, 15, 20 years creates stress in the spine and more specifically to the discs that separate the vertebrae. Some people can herniate a disc when doing a simple task like putting on their shoes. This is a case of the straw that broke the camel’s back. The problem was there long before the disc herniated.
The second cause of a disc herniation is acute stress. A fall, sports injury, or car accident are some of the most common traumas to the spine. These traumas occur quickly and the disc is not able to absorb the full impact and maintain its function. This leads to a quick disc herniation at that moment. Keep in mind that we continue to live our lives every day and without proper maintenance of the spine, repetitive stress will also take its daily toll on the disc’s ability to adapt to its environment, especially if a trauma does occur.
So let’s talk about the spine to know exactly what a disc is. We have twenty four vertebrae in our spine, with seven in the neck, twelve in the middle back and five in the lower back. Separating each vertebra is a disc and these discs act like a cushion. The disc also aids in the rotation of the spine so the body can twist and move in ways we want it to. The disc is 90% water and the water is contained in the middle of the disc. The best analogy is the Boston Cream doughnut. There is the inside of the doughnut that contains the cream and if the outside of the doughnut is healthy, the cream will stay inside but if you poke a hole in the doughnut and you push on the doughnut the cream comes out of the doughnut. The water is supposed to be contained within the disc like the cream is supposed to be contained within the doughnut but because of repetitive or acute stress, the outside of the disc starts to weaken. In the first stage of a disc herniation, the outside of the disc will start to bulge because the water inside is pushing against the boundaries of that disc. All of a sudden the disc cannot contain the water anymore and the water exits the disc or the cream exits the doughnut.
Here’s the thing about the spine, when that water exists the disc it is so close to the nerve that it can actually contact the nerve and create pain. If the herniated disc is in the neck this pain could radiate down into the arms and fingers, maybe creating the pins and needles sensation. If the herniation is in the low back, that pain could radiate down the legs and into the feet. The pain involved with a disc herniation can be quite severe and treatment takes time.
So how can chiropractic help? Chiropractors assess the spine for areas of dysfunction called a subluxation. This is an area of the spine that’s not moving well that over time creates stress on the disc and creates weakness. Over time, this can cause a disc herniation. Receiving regular spinal checkups and adjustments can prevent a disc herniation by maintaining the health of the spine and discs.
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