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Non-Invasive Treatment for Bulging, Ruptured, or Herniated Discs.
Chiropractic care is a nonsurgical treatment option for herniated discs (including bulging or slipped discs and even sciatica nerve and spinal stenosis issues). But what is a chiropractor’s approach to treating a herniated disc?
Before we get to that, we need a quick review of what a herniated disc is.
What Is a “Slipped” Disc? Is It the Same as a Herniated Disc?
With the exception of the first 2 vertebrae in the neck (the atlas or C1 and the axis or C2) there is an intervertebral disc between each vertebra of the spine. This is why the neck is sometimes referred to as the cervical spine. Discs act as a shock absorber and a shock distributor, and provide flexibility. Loose that flexibility and you can get neck pain or worse.
Imagine if you jump up and down. What would happen to the stack of bony vertebrae that make up the spine without the cushioning and support of these discs? Now, move your back from side to side. Can you visualize the give and take of the discs between the vertebrae?
Without these discs, your spine couldn’t function.
Intervertebral discs don’t really slip even though the phrase “slipped disc” is popular to describe bulging, ruptured, or herniated discs.
Your discs are made up of the annulus fibrosus (the tough outer layer) and the nucleus pulposus (which contains a soft, gelatin-like center). When cracks occur in the outer layer of the disc, the material inside of the disc can begin to push out. Numerous factors can cause a disc to herniate.
Can Sneezing Cause a Herniated Disc?
Yes it can! For example, let’s say you sneeze and feel a sudden, sharp pain in your back. Then that pain progresses into your legs or sciatica. You may have had an underlying herniated disc, and the sneeze was what triggered it to progress. Which means that yes a sneeze or a cough can herniate an intervertebral disc.
Chiropractic Care and Herniated Discs
A chiropractor can help address back pain and provide fast relief to any other herniated disc symptoms. At your initial appointment, your chiropractor will go through your medical history, do a physical exam, and perform orthopaedic and neurological tests.
Your chiropractor will look for several things. These are important questions at the orthopaedic and neurological exams can help your chiropractor answer.
Are the reflexes intact? That is are your nerves sending messages correctly? The classic reflex test is when the doctor taps your knee with a small hammer and your leg kicks up.
Is there loss of muscle strength or signs of muscle wasting?
Is there loss of sensation along the path of a nerve?
Is the nerve pinched?
Is it degenerative disc disease?
The chiropractor will also carefully look at your posture, and he or she may order an X-ray or MRI to help with the diagnostic process. Your chiropractor may eventually use spinal decompression to help ease your pain levels.
Chiropractors evaluate the entire spine. Even if you only have lower back pain, your chiropractor will examine your neck, shoulders and even legs and hips. He or she wants to see how well your spine is functioning overall. What happens in one area of your spine can influence other parts of your spine and/or body.
After reviewing this information, your chiropractor can determine if you have an intervertebral disc injury. The type of disc injury you have will determine what treatments your chiropractor will use to address your symptoms.
Some patients are not good candidates for some types of chiropractic care treatments. If you have cauda equina syndrome for example (a condition in which you lose control of your bowel/bladder with an accompanying intervertebral disc injury), then you will need immediate medical care as this is something that cannot be treated by your chiropractor.
In addition, if your chiropractor finds that you have advanced loss of strength, sensation, reflexes, and other unusual neurological findings, then he or she may refer you to a spine surgeon.
However, most intervertebral disc injuries are related to a herniated disc. Your chiropractor can provide you with various treatment options to address your pain and other symptoms.
To treat a herniated disc, your chiropractor will develop a treatment plan that may include spinal manipulation (also known as adjustments) and other chiropractic techniques to help ease your chronic pain symptoms. This will be an individualized treatment plan, but it may include manual therapy and therapeutic exercises.
You want to make sure you understand what will be done and how it can help relieve your pain.
Below are some examples of chiropractic techniques used for herniated discs.
Flexion-distraction Technique for Herniated Discs
A common chiropractic technique is the flexion distraction technique, which can be used to help address herniated disc symptoms.
Flexion distraction involves the use of a specialized table that gently distracts or stretches the spine. This allows the chiropractor to isolate the affected area while slightly flexing the spine using a pumping rhythm.
There is usually no pain associated with this treatment. Instead, the flexion-distraction technique gentle pumping to the painful area allows the center of the intervertebral disc (called the nucleus pulposus) to assume its central position in the disc. Flexion-distraction may also improve disc height.
This technique can help move the disc away from the nerve, reducing inflammation of the nerve root, and eventually any associated pain and inflammation into the leg (if there is any related to your herniated disc).
With flexion distraction, you generally need a series of treatments combined with adjunctive ultrasound, muscle stimulation, physiotherapy, supplementation, and at home treatments.
Gradually, specific exercises and nutritional recommendations will be incorporated into your treatment plan. Your chiropractor will monitor you throughout the treatment plan.
Manipulation Under Anesthesia (MUA)
Manipulation under anesthesia (or MUA) is an appropriate chiropractic treatment for some spinal conditions. MUA is performed at an ambulatory care center or hospital.
The type of anesthesia is called twilight sleep; meaning the duration of sleep and sedation is short, about 6 minutes. While the patient is sedated, the chiropractor stretches and manipulates the treatment area while your body is in relaxed state. This treatment is usually performed during 1 to 3 sessions that are 2 to 4 weeks apart.
Pelvic Blocking Techniques for Herniated Discs
Chiropractors also use pelvic blocking techniques to treat herniated disc symptoms.
Pelvic blocking treatments include using cushioned wedges, which are placed under each side of the pelvis. Gentle exercises may also be used. These will allow changes in mechanics to draw your disc away from the pinched nerve it may be pressing on.
Misconceptions about Chiropractic
It’s a misconception that chiropractors pop a disc back in place using forceful adjustments. The pop sound comes from the release of gas under pressure within a joint. It is similar to the sound heard when opening a can of soda.
Another misconception is that chiropractic care involves a few quick treatments, which can fix your disc. Instead, as explained above, chiropractors treat herniated discs using gentle low-force techniques.
Your Hayward chiropractor will develop a treatment plan for your herniated disc, and if your symptoms do not improve, your chiropractor may recommend and co-manage your condition with a local Hayward pain medicine specialist or a spine surgeon. The ultimate goal is to quickly relieve your pain and get you back to full health using holistic treatment, not surgery (such as spinal fusion).