How to Identify and Treat a Disc Injury
The intervertebral discs are the shock absorbers of our spine. They sit between each one of our vertebrae. They have two parts- an outer collagen ring called the annulus fibrosis, and an inner nuclear material that is a jelly-like substance called the nucleus pulposus. Imagine it is a jelly donut between each of the spinal bones; if you squeeze the donut, the jelly will squirt out.
How do these disc injuries happen?
Throughout our life, through a series of bending, lifting, twisting, accidents, and trauma, we get tiny cracks in the outer part of the discs. Because the discs are the shock absorbers of our spine, they are put under a lot of pressure. The jelly slowly starts to fill in those cracks making the walls very thin, to the point that it will either cause a bulged disc or a herniated disc and the jelly will no longer be where it is supposed to be. If left untreated, those discs turn into degenerative discs.
The foramen (or holes) where the nerves go through are made by the top of one spinal bone and the bottom of another. So as your disc loses height, it makes the hole shrink in size and starts to pinch the nerve. When a nerve is pinched, it can cause symptoms of burning, tingling, numbness, or itchiness. People will typically present with a pain in their back or buttock that goes down their leg, which you may recognize as sciatica. You can have similar symptoms in the arm.
When your disc is injured, because it is the shock absorber of your spine, you will most likely not be able to do all the activities you usually do, such as standing or walking for prolonged periods. You may notice you have to sit down more frequently. One of the classic signs is when you go to the grocery store, and you see you’re putting a lot more weight on the shopping cart as you’re walking around. That is telling you there may be an underlying issue such as a disc injury that you should get checked out by your chiropractor.
Other Symptoms of a Disc Injury:
- You may feel like a red hot poker is sticking your glute.
- You may not be able to walk 50 feet without having to sit down.
- You are tripping or falling more than you previously did.
- You are experiencing numbness in feet or hands.
- It may be more difficult to open jars.
- You may start dropping things like silverware, cups.
The above symptoms may occur because of nerve root irritation (pinched nerve). The nerves work like electrical wires to send electricity from your brain and spinal cord to organs and muscles to tell them to work correctly. Each level of the spinal column is like an electrical breaker that can be blown.
Another analogy is a dimmer light switch. Similar to a light bulb, that can be turned down, via a dimmer switch, the same thing can happen with our nerves and where those nerves go which can result in dropping things or tripping and put us at an increased risk for falling.
How Do You Treat a Disc Injury?
Many treatments and therapies have great success in treating disc injuries.
- The standard go-to treatment for noninvasive techniques is spinal decompression therapy. This treatment allows the disc to get rehydrated and thus, takes the pressure off the nerve.
- Steroid injections are the next step up if decompression therapy does not work.
- Spinal surgery is a possible treatment but should be avoided until all conservative management techniques are exhausted.
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms or think you may have a disc injury, be sure to visit your chiropractor as soon as possible. If left untreated, the discs could further degenerate, pinching the nerve more and more.