Many people think that if they have really bad back pain, sometimes with leg pain that they must have a “slipped disc”. The truth is that a slipped disc happens in less than 5% of people with back, leg or arm pain. Unfortunately some medical doctors don’t know this fact. The result is that many people with bad back pain or arm or leg pain have MRI and C-T scan tests. And some will go on to have needless surgery and still have pain.
What is a slipped disc really?
A disc can’t really slip. The term refers to a disc bulge or herniation.
A disc bulge is a very common incidental finding. Many people have a disc bulge that causes no pain unless it irritates a nerve.
Discs have a tough outer part made of fibers that cross something like the tread on a tire. They also have a squishy toothpaste consistency middle part. To the side of each disc are tunnels between the back bones above and below the disc. Nerves come off the spinal cord and travel through these tunnels then on to your muscles, skin and organs. Directly behind the discs sit the spinal canal where the spinal cord runs from your brain down to your lower back. You can learn more about discs here if you wish: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intervertebral_disc
A disc herniation happens when the outer layer of the disc rips and some of the soft interior ‘tooth paste-like’ inner gel squishes out and presses on a nerve in the tunnel next to the disc. Or the herniation may press on the spinal cord behind the disc. And that is a situation that will cause pain. Luckily it is also much more rare than the ‘disc bulge’ that many people have without even knowing it.
If you do have a true slipped disc, that is a disc herniation pressing on a nerve, does it mean that you immediately need surgery? The good news is often no.
Fortunately discs can heal if they receive the proper care. As chiropractors we treat people for their “slipped discs” on an almost daily basis. Here is some important information to know about discs and how they are treated so you may avoid surgery.
So what other treatment is there beside surgery?
Research shows that people who get conservative care with chiropractic, do as well or even better than people who get surgery for a hurt disc when checked at a 5 year follow up. And they had fewer side effects like failed back syndrome which is post-surgical pain that can last for the rest of your life.
Disc care at our office entails relieving as much work and stress from the hurt discs as possible. We do this by making sure your feet, knees, hips and sacroiliac joints are not transferring more work than necessary to your spine. We make sure joints above and below the hurt disc level are working as best as possible. (Again to relieve as much stress from the disc as possible).
We also teach you how to sit, sleep, and work to avoid injuring the disc any further.
We might suggest a back brace, but only if absolutely necessary.
We give appropriate exercises to strengthen the muscles around the hurt disc. Strong spinal muscles help protect the disc.
And we give you nutrients to speed healing of the injured disc.
However we also monitor our patients carefully. We watch out for any dangerous worsening of their symptoms that would indicate that they do indeed need spinal surgery.
How long does a disc injury take to heal?
A disc injury, depending on the severity can take 2 or 3 months to heal. However, through that time when getting the appropriate care, most pains subside and the weakness lessens. People with serious health conditions like diabetes will take longer to heal than younger healthier people. The goal is to keep the person as active as possible while teaching good stabilization exercises. And we teach you how to avoid activities that brought on the disc injury in the first place.
So, if you or someone you know has a hurt disc and need some help to get better sooner rather than later without surgery, please give us a call at 978-535-6155 to learn how we may be able to help.