Is back pain bothering you or interfering with daily activities? You might have a herniated disc. This common disorder occurs in approximately 2%of the adult population. It becomes more prevalent with age, with adults between the ages of 25 and 55 having about a 95% chance of developing a herniated disc.
What Is Disc Herniation?
Your spine is made up of 24 vertebrae. These short chunks of bone are stacked together, forming the spinal column. Discs act as cushions that lodge between the vertebrae. They protect the bones from friction and absorb pressure as the spine curves, flexes, and shifts.
The resilient outer cartilage of each disc encases a softer, gel-like core. As people age, their discs lose elasticity. Instead of bouncing back after the bones compress it, the outer layer of a disc may develop cracks. When it ruptures, some of the material from the center of the disc escapes. The leaked nucleus may compress nerves, causing pain and discomfort.
Disc herniation usually happens in the following regions:
- Lumbar disc herniation: lower back
- Thoracic disc herniation: mid to upper back
- Cervical disc herniation: neck
Disc herniation lumbar and cervical are the most common. The discs can protrude in any direction, including toward the spinal cord.
Sometimes, people refer to disc herniation as a slipped or ruptured disc. But what is a disc herniation vs. bulge? A bulge happens when the disc protrudes without breaking open.
How Is a Disc Herniation Diagnosis Made?
A disc herniation diagnosis is usually made by examining the patient and assessing their symptoms. In some cases, imaging scans can identify the problem. However, these tests are not always necessary. A health care professional can pinpoint a disc herniation by testing reflexes, range of motion, and vital signs.
If you have a disc herniation lumbar, the pain in your legs may be worse than the discomfort in your back. The symptoms often affect only one side of the body and worsen when you move or hunch forward.
Other symptoms that point towards a lumbar disc herniation diagnosis include:
- Sciatica pain, which can radiate down your buttocks, hamstring, and calf
- Numbness or tingling in the legs
- Weakness in the leg, foot, or toes
- Difficulty lifting the foot when walking
- Incontinence issues
- Dull, aching, stiff lower back
If the disc herniation is cervical, your symptoms may fall in the following range:
- Pain on the back or side of the neck
- Pain that radiates through the shoulder, arm, wrist, or fingers
- Stiff neck
- Reduced mobility in the neck and shoulders
The pain often comes on rapidly. For example, you might turn your head to talk to a friend or bend over to pick something up, and your neck or back suddenly seizes. The pain may be intense and immobilize you for a few days. However, it typically dies down within a few days and completely resolves itself in four to six weeks.
The type and location of pain from disc herniation depend on the affected nerves. Seeing a chiropractor for disc herniation can help you learn which part of the spine is impacted and how to treat disc herniation appropriately.
How to Treat Disc Herniation
If you have been dealing with painful and debilitating symptoms, you probably wonder how to heal disc herniation. Once a disc ruptures, it may not truly heal. Although the disc may continue to have a lesion, you can treat the pain and discomfort in various ways. In fact, 70% of patients with disc herniation are free from pain within about six months.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the disc has repaired itself. Instead, it usually indicates that one of the following processes has occurred:
- Your immune system has attacked the inflammatory nucleus material, reducing its particle size and removing harmful proteins.
- Your body has absorbed water from the leaked fluid, reducing the pressure exerted on the nerves.
- Specific movements and exercises have enhanced the spine’s mobility and taken the pressure off the discs.
In other words, even if the disc doesn’t heal, it usually stops causing pain at some point. The following treatments can reduce discomfort and speed up your recovery:
- Rest in a variety of positions that alleviate the pain. For example, try using pillows to support your head, back, and hips.
- Avoid staying in the same position for too long to prevent stiffness. Gentle walking can ease pain and maintain mobility.
- Avoid lifting heavy items or doing intense exercise.
- Take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen.
- Use ice or heat to reduce pain.
- Try physiotherapy for disc herniation.
Exercises for Disc Herniation
Disc herniation exercises can reverse stiffness and ease the pain. They can also build strength and flexibility to prevent discomfort from a herniated disc in the future. ELDOA exercises regulate fascial tension and decompress the spine. Below, we have described three simple exercises that you can do if you have disc herniation lumbar or cervical:
- Butterfly stretch: Sit against a wall, bending your hips and knees at a 90-degree angle. Your feet should be resting on the floor in front of you, and your legs should form a diamond shape. Flex your feet so that your ankles are at a 90-degree angle. As you press your back, neck, and head against the wall behind you, hold your arms straight in front of you, with your palms facing out and fingers facing to the sides. Maintain this hand position as you raise your arms above your head and hold them there for one minute.
- Lying hip stretch: Lie on your back with both knees bent and your feet against the floor. Lift one foot, resting that ankle on the opposite knee. For a deeper stretch, thread your hands through the open space, grabbing behind the thigh of the grounded leg. Gently pull with your hands, lifting that foot off of the floor and stretching the lower spine.
- Towel stretch: Drape a hand towel behind your neck, using your hands to hold each end in front of you. Pull on the towel until you feel gentle pressure on your neck. Gently relax your head back, supporting its weight by pulling up on the ends of the towel. You should feel relief as your cervical spine extends.
It’s safest to learn disc herniation exercises from a professional. Specific soft tissue techniques can alleviate your discomfort, improve your posture and prevent the pain from returning.
At the Bergen Chiropractic and Sports Rehabilitation Center, our chiropractic team, led by Dr. Gregory Doerr, follows the highest and most professional medical standards to provide superior chiropractic help. Our mission is to provide unparalleled patient care and services in a comfortable healing atmosphere. Contact us to learn more about our chiropractic services!