According to statistics, “slipped discs” affect 5-20 people for every 1,000 adults, mostly those between the ages of 30 to 50 years old. In fact, it’s one of the most common conditions that lead people to seek the help of a chiropractor.
However, the term “slipped” disc is a misnomer for what’s actually happening to your vertebrae when you have this condition. In this article, we will discuss the anatomy of your spine, what happens when one of your vertebrae “slips,” and when you should seek the help of your chiropractor for relief.
There are 23 discs in the spine – 6 in the neck, 12 in the middle of the back, and 5 in the lower back. These discs have jellylike centers (the nucleus) and rubbery exteriors (the annulus), and they sit in between the vertebrae in your spine.
They are essential to the function of your spine as they help keep it flexible while providing strength, provide shock absorption, and keep your vertebrae from grinding together.
However, for a variety of reasons, a crack can occur in the tough outer layer of the disc and allow some of the softer nucleus to protrude out of the disc. This condition is commonly known as a “slipped” disc despite the fact that the disc hasn’t slipped at all. Instead, only the small area where the crack in the exterior is located is affected.
A more appropriate term for this condition is “herniated” disc, meaning the nucleus has herniated through the rubbery exterior of the disc.
What Causes a Herniated Disc?
Most people have difficulty pinpointing an exact moment when a disc became herniated. A herniated disc could be caused by lifting a heavy object with your back instead of your knees or twisting while lifting something. However, the most common reason for a herniated disc is regular wear and tear on your spine as you age.
Over time, your discs become less flexible and are more vulnerable to tearing when the most minor strain or twist. This is a normal part of aging known as disc degeneration. Besides age, other risk factors for herniated discs include:
With more weight to carry around, the spine of an obese person can degenerate faster
- Your Occupation
Physically demanding jobs that require a lot of lifting or repetitive movements can affect the spinal discs.
Smoking causes a decrease in oxygen which causes the disc to break down quicker.
Some people may be predisposed to having disc issues depending on their family history.
Symptoms of a Herniated Disc
Although a herniated disc can occur anywhere, they are most commonly found in the lower back. Because they can protrude far, a herniated disc can put extra pressure on nearby nerves and muscles causing pain and inflammation.
If you have a herniated disc, you may experience:
- Pain and numbness
- Tingling or aching in the affected area
- Pain that extends down the arm or leg
- Pain that worsens at night
- Pain that worsens with certain movements
- Pain after standing or sitting
- Pain when walking short distances
- Unexplained muscle weakness
That said, you can also have a herniated disc and not have any symptoms. You might know you have a herniated disc unless it shows up on a spinal image.
Caring for Herniated Disc
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, the name of the game is getting relief. As anyone who has ever hurt their back can attest, back pain is not fun and can limit your ability to perform everyday activities.
The good news is that most herniated discs can be treated pretty easily. At home, you can take over-the-counter pain relievers to help lessen the inflammation while avoiding uncomfortable positions while you heal.
Many seek help from a chiropractor to relieve the pain of a herniated disc. After taking a thorough history and evaluation, your chiropractor will create a treatment plan that could include spinal manipulations, manual therapy, and therapeutic exercises such as stretching exercises.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of a herniated disc and you’re looking for relief, the care team at South Orange Rehabilitation & Wellness are here to help. Schedule an appointment today with one of our experts to discuss how we can start to help you feel better fast.