This blog is about slipped discs, written by James Revell, Eastbourne chiropractor at Lushington Chiropractic. Don’t worry he’s not claiming to treat or push slipped discs back in – read on to find out more.
Do you know how common slipped discs (also known as a herniated disc) are?
Did you know the prevalence and likelihood of you having a slipped disc increases with age, until you’re in your fifties. As you age, the discs in your back slowly become damaged due to repetitive injury and dehydration – which is one of many reasons to drink more water (check out my blog on that here).
So, what is a slipped disc?
Can chiropractors treat a slipped disc?
I’ll answer the second question first.
No chiropractors can’t treat a slipped disc. We “don’t push the slipped disc back in”. No one can, it just doesn’t work like that.
Of course, chiropractors help people with sciatica and with back pain all the time. In some of those cases the cause of the pain may be a slipped disc. But although we can ease that pain, we are not pushing the slipped disc back in (or anything like that).
Although we can treat backaches, severe spasms and sciatica that may be caused by a slipped disc, I’ve not seen enough scientific evidence to convince me that any from of treatment (including chiropractic) can cause the slipped disc to be adsorbed and “go back in”.
So, let’s answer the first question now:
So what is a slipped disc?
Slipped discs are common affecting 50% of sixty year olds, but there is a lot of confusion about what a slipped disc is and how a slipped disc occurs.
I think that part of that confusion comes from the term “slipped disc”, which makes it sound as though the disc simply “slips out”, which isn’t the case. To help explain happens, I’ll share some simple anatomical facts about slipped discs.
A bit about the spine
The discs within your spine are basically cartilage pads that separate and cushion the 24 movable vertebrae in your spine. These discs provide a cushioning effect and create flexibility in your spine. It’s these discs which allow you to move and bend your neck and back. Chiropractors appreciate the vital importance of these shock absorbing discs, without them your spine would be a solid mass of bone. But we don’t go about pushing discs in (or out)!
Your spinal discs make up about one-quarter of the length of your spine. Throughout your life your discs are constantly exposed to compression, torque, twisting and injury, resulting in stress to the cartilage disc pad. I remember whilst doing my chiropractic degree we measured ourselves first thing in the morning and then at the end of the day. We found (as expected) that we’d shrunk. This is because some of the fluid in your discs is squeezed out during the day when you’re weight bearing.
Damage to your spinal discs is a topic of considerable discussion and terms such as rupture, bulged, degenerated, or “slipped” and protruded are used interchangeably; however, they are not the same.
Can a disc “slip” out of place?
First of all the label “slipped disc” isn’t accurate. Your disc never slips. In fact, it’s so firmly attached to the bone that the vertebrae is more likely to fracture than the disc slip or be pulled off it.
Your spinal discs are made of tough cartilaginous material, which can bulge and tear but never simply slip out of place. So when you hear the term “slipped disc” you now know it’s not slipped but may have bulged.
This process of a bulging (slipped) disc usually takes years to develop. The damage to the disc is a symptom of poor spinal biomechanics. It’s usually the end product of years of repetitive functional stress.
Disc and joint degeneration
Your spinal discs are constantly subjected to gravity and torque from body movements and are therefore susceptible to degeneration from basic wear and tear. The terms “degenerative disc” or “degenerative joint disease” most accurately describes the steady minor degeneration associated with day-to-day life. On an MRI scan a disc degeneration will show as a reduced height disc space, often with osteophytes on the vertebra (bony spurs projecting out from the end plate of the vertebra) and the disc may appear darker on the MRI if it’s dehydrated.
Title: Diagram Showing Lumbar Vertebra, Spinal Disc and Disc Rupture (aka slipped disc)
Picture shows an anatomical diagram of the vertebra and discs, taken from http://www.spine-inc.com/
So what causes a disc to bulge?
Discs are extremely tough and resilient. It usually takes years to damage them from repetitive stresses and strain.
Disc bulges don’t usually occur from a sudden force. Similarly sudden onsets of back pain are more likely to be due to a strain or tearing of your softer tissues like muscles, ligaments or tendons rather than an immediate damage to the tough disc.
One of the easiest ways to protect your back and discs is to be aware of your posture and to move regularly.
You can see from the graph that compared to standing (which is 100%), sitting slouched puts almost twice the pressure on your lumbar discs (185%) and lifting an item whilst slouched puts more than double the pressure on it (220%).
Title: Graph Showing Pressure on Disc When in Different Postures
Picture shows: graphical comparison of the pressure put on the lumbar discs when in different postures.
So you can really see why at Lushington Chiropractic we’re always reminding our patients about the importance of their posture. We believe that part of a chiropractor’s role is to educate and coach people about their own spine and health (which is why I’ve written this blog).
Someone told me I had a slipped disc?
One of the most common mistakes people about their discs is that they think once they’ve had a slipped disc that it’s the cause of all their back pain for the rest of their lives.
Seeing a disc bulge does not mean that it’s the cause of your pain.
Remember, disc bulges and herniations are very common, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see them on a scan. Just because we can see a dehydrated, bulging or “slipped” disc on your MRI does not necessarily mean that’s what’s causing your pain.
James Revell Showing Disc Bulge on Vertebral Model
Image shows: James Revell Licentiate of the Royal College of Chiropractors, MSc(Chiropractic Sciences),BSc(Chiropractic Sciences),BSc(Biological Sciences) pointing to an anatomical model of a vertebrae and spinal disc to show a slipped disc, picture taken in his Eastbourne Chiropractic Clinic.
I’ve even seen people who’ve had their slipped disc “removed” with surgery, but it’s not helped with their pain. We’re lucky to have a number of fantastic orthopaedic consultants here in Eastbourne. So if you’re considering surgery take time to talk to the surgical expert and ask them for any advice they may have.
So in summary a slipped disc has not slipped. Discs are so tough in fact that your vertebrae is more likely to fracture than the disc slip away from the bone.
Sudden onset of pain is more likely to be due to damage of your “soft tissues” like muscles, fascia and tendons.
Disc dehydration and bulges are common, so seeing them on your MRI scan does not automatically mean that it’s the cause of your pain.
At Lushington Chiropractic we can refer you to a local facility which charges about £400 for MRIs, per region imaged.
And . . . no chiropractors do not push slipped-discs back in.
I hope this blog has shed some light on the terms used regarding your back and some of the problem that can occur with it. The more you can understand the better placed you are to take control.
This article was written by Eastbourne Chiropractor James Revell
Want to find out more about low back pain?
We have a huge variety of blogs on low back pain. If you’ve found this blog helpful and would like to find out more, then please check out one of our other blogs on low back pain below.
General advice and self-help advice
Stretching and exercises
Posture and Low Back Pain
Sleeping and Low Back Pain
Gardening and Low Back Pain
Back pain in the elderly
By James Revell
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