A whole host of things can go wrong with a vertebral disc over a lifetime. A traumatic injury can crush or misplace a disc. An excessive pulling or lifting accident at home or on the job can force a disc out of position. And for some of us, simply getting older can cause a disc to deteriorate. This is usually called degenerative disc disease.
The vast majority of disc injuries occur in the lower back or lumbar region. When a damaged lumbar disc presses on a nerve root, it can cause radiating pain, numbness and weakness in other areas of the body, including the buttocks, leg, ankles and toes. Ironically, in many cases, a person with a herniated disc will not feel back or neck pain.
Cervical (neck) discs that have herniated can cause radiating pain and numbness down an arm and into the wrist and hand. Other types of symptoms include shoulder pain and numbness, as well as muscle and reflex weakness.
Chiropractic care entails a conservative, nonsurgical approach to treating disc injuries and other disc-related problems, and is often a course of treatment prior to any surgery, if recommended by a primary care physician or surgeon. And in other cases, disc injuries may heal themselves without any intervention.
Before undertaking any course of chiropractic treatment for a disc problem or injury, patients are thoroughly examined. This examination includes such things as analysis of posture, limb measurements, and pelvic balance, gait and reflex analyses. It is important to know whether the disc problem is a result of an injury or disease. If more information is needed, a diagnostic test, such as a MRI or X-ray, may be required to accurately pinpoint the source of the problem.
Treatments may include spinal adjustment or manipulation, and therapies, such as electrotherapy and ice/heat therapy.
Specific techniques for treating disc injury include:
- Flexion-distraction– The patient lies on a specialized table that gently stretches the spine, allowing the chiropractor to pinpoint the affected disc while slightly flexing the spine. These procedures gently move the disc away from an affected nerve, slowing or eliminating inflammation, and pain.
- Pelvic blocking– This method employs cushioned wedges that are placed under each side of the hips. The chiropractor gently maneuvers the pelvic area, allowing gravity to pull the disc away from the affected nerve.