Herniated Disc - is there a solution

There is a lot of confusion around the word "herniated disc", it is a term used commonly when you have severe back pain that radiates away from your spine. However, not all severe back pain is due to disc issues.

You may have heard of these common phrases - slipped disc, disc bulge, degenerative disc disease, ruptured disc, prolapsed discs. Each one brings up fear in those with back pain.

What is a herniated disc?

When a disc herniates, you get the fluid material leaving the disc and encroaching in the spinal canal. The degree of herniation defines the terms.

A disc bulge is where the disc is distorted as pressure is placed on the disc, the disc will bulge in one direction. In fact studies have shown that more than 60% of adults can have disc bulges yet no pain at all.

Prolapsed discs is where the disc splits and a small amount of material leaks out, but generally is still help attached to the disc. In these cases pain occurs and will cause radiations.

The more severe type of herniations is called a sequestrated disc, where the material leaves the disc entirely and floats around the canal. In these cases surgery is your only option, pain levels are extreme and you may have loss of bowel or bladder control.

The terms slipped disc is actually a way of saying severe back pain, the disc itself will not slip, but this is a term used for a range of back pain issues from the bulges to even low grade prolapses.

Degenerative disc disease is more a wear and tear issue of age and gravity. It may or may not cause pain, and is a separate condition not totally related to the disc itself.

What causes a herniated disc?

When downward pressure is exerted on a disc the material in the center (nucleus pulposis) will be forced to one side. The greater the pressure the more this material will move until it may burst out one side.

The cause of all disc herniations is therefore the compression stresses placed on the spine. The day to day activities you perform will cause muscle and joint tension, leading to spinal imbalances.

Once spinal imbalances develop, they cause a twisting and destroying effect on the spine, this creates a compression stress. Initially this is noticed as minor pain and stiffness, or may be completely non-symptomatic.

With time and as these imbalances develop further the compression stresses increase, until one day you lift, bend, twist, cough or sneeze and a disc issues will occur.

What are the symptoms of a herniated disc?

Symptoms can range from minor pain or stiffness, to severe pain and loss of bladder and bowel control. Pain may be localized or radiate down an arm or leg depending on where the herniations occur.

If pain is severe, you have lost bladder or bowel control then you need to seek attention now. This is a serious issue.

What are the common treatments for disc herniations?

Conservative treatment tries to reduce the pain and inflammation that occurs, by using medication, ice/heat, cortisone injections, exercises or various other modalities.

Surgery is an option to reduce pressure from the nerves, but research has shown that it is no better at getting results as when compared to a more conservative approach. Manipulation and mobilization of the area has some benefits, but long term results vary.

Why do most traditional treatments fail?

Traditional treatment approaches usually have poor results as they try to target the disc itself. The disc may be casing pain now, but the reason why the disc was under pressure is not addressed.

Unless you remove pressure and inflammation around the disc, and target the underlying causes of the stresses on the spine, result are commonly temporary at best.

What herniated disc treatments work best?

Treatment that has the best results focuses on more than one aspect. The first step is identifying which type of spinal imbalance you have. These imbalances create the compression stresses that lead to disc herniations.

Next you need to reduce inflammation and pain, which can be achieved using techniques such as inversion therapy, Acupressure or even Reflexology. In acute situations ice/heat is still effective, as is trigger point release.

Trigger points (tight knotted muscle fibers) are common in disc herniations as the muscles have become chronically tight from protecting the area.

The next step is correcting the spinal imbalances. Rebalancing the muscles and joints helps to realign your spine and reduce the compression stresses. This is the only effective long term solution to disc herniations.

You can aid the process by improving the health of your disc by rehydrating them, stimulating the blood supply to the discs and removing stress in general.


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