Back pain is a common condition that affects up to 80% of people during their lifetime. It’s not only a leading cause of pain but also the number one cause of disability worldwide. Low back pain is often related to the intervertebral discs that live between each vertebra. When discs become injured, the pain can be one of the most severe and disabling you can experience, especially when the result of nerve compression. To understand how we treat disc injuries at Brown Chiropractic, we need to understand the function of discs and discuss how they can be injured.
Discs, the shock absorbers of your spine, play a crucial role in spinal health by dispersing the forces placed on your spine from everyday activities. Their unique anatomy includes a fibrocartilage outer ring called the “annulus fibrosis” and a gel-like center or “nucleus pulposis.” With poor postures and repetitive injurious motions, the outer rings can wear down, making them vulnerable to injury.
Sometimes, discs are injured because of trauma like a car accident or work injury. However, many disc injuries will occur spontaneously or with little force, liking picking something up off the ground. When these injuries occur, they can seem sudden, but are typically a gradual process that progressed over years to decades. When the metaphorical “final straw” occurs, tearing the outer annulus allows the inner gel-like nucleus to migrate, resulting in herniations or bulges. In some cases, the displaced disc material can compress spinal nerves and the spinal cord, causing radiating pain.
Disc injuries typically occur in the lumbar and cervical regions of the spine. When a disc herniation or bulge pinches a nerve, it causes a “radiculopathy.” A radiculopathy is characterized by radiating pain into the associated limb and can be accompanied by numbness, tingling, and weakness. These symptoms can be alarming and quite disabling. Luckily, pinched nerves respond well to chiropractic adjustments and specific exercises designed to reduce nerve compression and speed up healing.
$25 New Patient Disc Injury Health Screening
$25 for a complete chiropractic health screening including a consultation, exam, X-rays if necessary, a report of findings, and a plan of action.
Acute or chronic disc injuries can profoundly impact your quality of life. Because they accumulate over years to decades without warning, maintaining a healthy spine through wellness chiropractic adjustments and having a daily movement practice is optimal. When disc injuries do occur, early intervention is critical. The faster you can return to normal activities, the less likely you are to become a chronic back pain sufferer. Fortunately, 96% of disc herniations do not need surgery and can be managed conservatively through chiropractic care and rehabilitation. The more severe the disc herniation, the more likely your body will re-absorb the displaced material.
Our goal is to allow our patients to avoid or minimize medical interventions, including the use of anti-inflammatories and painkillers, especially opioids. In some cases, if inflammation is rampant, co-management with your primary care is appropriate, and medication can reduce inflammation and make symptoms more manageable. It’s important to remember medication does not address the disc’s mechanical disruption or restore normal spine function. It also does not address the original cause of the disc injuries. Indeed, many of our patients sought care with us after medications had little to no effect. If a trial of conservative care is proving ineffective, we can typically order an MRI and refer to an appropriate specialist. A failed trial of care is one of the most powerful diagnostic outcomes regarding the decision to perform more invasive procedures such as injections and surgery. If you are not responding to care with us, you can rest assured that you’ve given your body every chance to heal naturally and tried everything you can to avoid those interventions.
How Our Disc Injury Care Plan Works
At Brown Chiropractic, we treat people, not conditions. Our first priority is to get to know our patients, their lifestyles, and their goals for care. This allows us to partner with them and together create a care plan that is both individualized and specific to their needs.
Our comprehensive evaluation process not only identifies painful tissues but also the root cause of the condition. This allows us to take our patients through a step-by-step plan that gets them out of pain quickly and with lasting results.
Patients often find they not only get out of pain but feel better than they ever could have imagined. This allows them to perform at a higher level in all aspects of their life.
How We Treat Disc Injuries in Yarmouth, ME
Comprehensive Consultation and Exam
Identifying the root cause of the problem
The first step to treating disc injuries is a consultation where we get to know you and understand your symptoms, their effect on your life, and your goals for care. We then perform a comprehensive evaluation to confirm that a disc injury has occurred. This evaluation includes orthopedic and neurological testing to identify what tissues are injured or inflamed, including identifying the affected disc(s) and nerves.
Next, a chiropractic spinal analysis identifies restrictions and malalignments of the spinal segments related to your injury. Lastly, if you’re able, we perform a functional movement screen to determine abnormal postures, muscle imbalances, and dysfunctional movements that contributed to overloading and damaging the discs in the first place. All of this is designed to get to the root cause of your pain so your care can be effective and efficient.
If we identify that further testing is necessary, we can order X-rays or an MRI. Similarly, if we feel you would benefit from a collaborative approach for your back pain we can work with your PCP or refer you to specialists, including orthopedists, physiatrists, neurologists, and more.
Specific Chiropractic Care in Yarmouth, ME
The best of adjusting and myofascial release
The first goal of care for disc injuries is to provide our patients with relief and to facilitate healing. We do this by restoring motion and function to the restricted segments of your spine with an adjustment. These restrictions can intensify disc-related pain through local muscle spasms, weakness, and altered control of movement within your spine, perpetuating the problem.
When we adjust your spine, it normalizes the sliding and gliding of joints, reducing muscle tension and optimizing the biomechanics of your back. In addition to adjustments, we use myofascial release and assisted stretching to provide complete relief and further normalize spine mobility. Improved spinal mobility makes stretching and exercising more comfortable and effective for correcting back and nerve pain related to disc injury.
For severe pain management and faster healing
Disc herniations always include some level of inflammation; inflammation is actually the first step to healing. However, excessive inflammation slows pain relief and healing, and can cause significant nerve compression that is unresponsive to mechanical therapies. When this occurs, we have various options to reduce pain and inflammation and speed healing. These include electrical stimulation, ultrasound, and laser.
Electric stimulation sends electrical pulses through the muscles and nerves and can be used to reduce muscle spasms and pain. Ultrasound sends sound waves into tissues, increasing blood flow and speeding up tissue healing. Cold laser emits low-frequency light and, like ultrasound, increases blood flow, reduces inflammation, and stimulates cells to reproduce healing tissues faster.
Custom Therapeutic Exercise Plan
Faster recovery and long-term resilience
If your pain is related to a disc, during your exam, we most likely identified a “directional preference,” informing us which direction the disc has herniated. Based on this information, we trial and then prescribe exercises patients can perform at home to better manage their disc-related pain and speed up healing.
If we identify nerve compression, we will prescribe specific nerve flossing protocols. Nerve flossing, also known as nerve gliding or nerve mobilization, is a therapeutic technique designed to improve the mobility and function of nerves that may be trapped, compressed, or irritated. Nerve flossing can provide pain relief and increased mobility while speeding up the healing of nerves.
During your movement screen, we will identify any abnormal postures, muscle imbalances, and movement dysfunction contributing to your back pain. Each patient receives a customized program designed around their specific needs and their goals for care. This often includes stretching protocols for the hips and strengthening for weakness in the core and sometimes muscles of the back. For disc injuries, we also typically work with proper bending and lifting mechanics, usually designed to mimic the particular work or home activity that likely contributed to the disc injury in the first place.
Decompressing discs and nerves to reduce pain and speed up healing
Mechanical traction therapy is a specialized technique designed to address the pain and symptoms associated with disc herniations. This therapy employs a carefully controlled and gentle pulling on the spine intending to create space between the vertebrae. This alleviates pressure on the affected disc and nerve and reduces pain while restoring mobility. This therapy also promotes healing of the disc by increasing blood flow and pumping essential nutrients for healing into the disc.
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Common Causes of Disc Injury in Yarmouth, ME
Disc bulges are broad progressive degenerative changes to the disc that can be completely asymptomatic or a significant contributor to back pain. With age, our discs dehydrate, and the outer layer of fibrocartilage will stiffen. These changes and repetitive stress on the tissues can cause the disc’s outer layer to bulge out. Even when disc bulges are painless, they can still contribute to compression of nearby nerves, leading to numbness, tingling, weakness, cramping, spasms, and shooting pain. This is called stenosis, and it can affect the spinal cord and individual nerves leaving the spine.
Age is the most significant risk factor for a bulged disc, making it more common in older people than younger people. Improper lifting techniques, accumulated trauma from poor posture, obesity, genetics, or acute trauma can also lead to a bulged disc.
Slipped or Herniated Disc
A herniated disc is often referred to as a slipped disc. A disc herniates when the outer layer of fibrocartilage tears and the softer, gelatinous material on the inside protrudes out of the disc. Disc herniations occur most often between the ages of 30-50.
Certain repetitive motions or improper lifting techniques increase the risk of a slipped disc. Disc herniations can also occur from sudden traumatic events, such as a motor vehicle accident. Disc herniations can mechanically compress nerves, and inflammation from the tearing can irritate nerve roots, causing radiating pain, numbness, tingling, and even weakness in an extremity. An untreated herniated or slipped disc can lead to permanent nerve damage and should be addressed as soon as possible.
Degenerative Disc Disease
One of the most common types of disc injuries isn’t generally considered to be an acute onset problem. Degenerative disc disease is an age-related condition in which the discs of the spine wear down over time and get smaller. When this happens, the holes on the side of the spine through which nerves exit get smaller, which can put pressure on these nerves and cause symptoms; this is called foraminal stenosis.
Besides repetitive motion and wear and tear, other risk factors that accelerate its progression include being overweight/obese and smoking. Common symptoms include lower back pain, but radiating pain down into the hips and legs can also be felt depending on how much the nerves are affected.
It’s important to understand that degenerative disc disease cannot be reversed. We can, however, manage it and slow its progression. Chiropractic, spinal decompression, and exercise are fantastic treatment options that can improve range of motion, decrease pain, and increase overall function. Since the condition cannot be fully corrected, the goal becomes achieving and maintaining the highest quality of life possible. A chiropractic lifestyle can help make that a reality for you or someone you know who suffers from degenerative disc disease.
Repetitive Motion and Stress
As was mentioned earlier, disc injuries are commonly the result of a gradual process of wear and tear on the cartilage rings surrounding the nucleus. It isn’t so much the incident when the pain started that is the cause, but rather the thousands of movements before that, which slowly caused damage over time. Imagine trying to break a credit card by hand. You repetitively have to bend the card back and forth, and slowly the card starts to weaken before finally snapping.
For this reason, certain fields of work tend to have more disc injuries than others. One such example of this is hard labor jobs, such as roofers, mechanics, and laborers. These jobs require lots of bending, lifting, and twisting motions frequently throughout each shift. Putting the spine in flexion and rotation simultaneously is the primary mechanism through which disc bulges and herniations can happen. The stress and pressure placed on these discs make them vulnerable and weak over time, and a simple motion can be the final straw that starts a cascade of pain and suffering. Chiropractic adjustments can help keep your spine moving optimally, improving its adaptive ability to these repetitive motions. A strong core, proper bending habits, and lifting practices can make a huge difference.
Lifting weights is a fantastic form of exercise that provides numerous physical and mental health benefits. However, heavy lifting also places a great deal of stress on the body, and especially on the spine. Our spine is always bearing the weight of our head plus the weight of gravity. When we add weight on top of that, we increase the load on the discs in our spine. When performing a heavy lift, intra-abdominal pressure sharply increases, which also increases pressure in the spine. If there is pre-existing weakness in the discs, then the likelihood that they will bulge or herniate drastically increases.
It’s important to remember that heavy lifting doesn’t just occur in the gym. People move furniture around their houses or move houses altogether. There are many circumstances in which lifting is necessary. Lifting improperly increases the risk of injuring your discs in the process. The best way to avoid unnecessary stress on your lower back is to always lift with your legs rather than bending at the waist and using your back.
It is important to remember that disc injuries can happen in other parts of the spine than just the lower back. The cervical spine (neck) is also a commonplace where disc injuries can occur. One common cause of disc injuries in the neck is auto accidents, especially when whiplash is involved. Whiplash occurs when the head moves violently back and forth in response to the impact of an auto accident. It damages the muscles and ligaments around the cervical spine and can even cause damage to the discs as well. Symptoms can include neck pain, arm pain, numbness, tingling, burning, or weakness.
Brown Chiropractic provides comprehensive care to help you recover and navigate the post-accident process with ease. We will work with insurance companies and attorneys alike to ensure that the process is smooth and stress-free for you, which will help maximize and accelerate your recovery.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can chiropractors in Yarmouth, Maine, help with disc problems?
Yes, chiropractors can provide effective conservative treatment for disc conditions, offering a non-invasive alternative to surgery and opioid painkillers.
Is it safe to go to a chiropractor with a herniated disc?
Yes, it is generally safe to visit a chiropractor for a herniated disc, especially when the chiropractor specializes in disc injuries. Our orthopedic evaluation is designed to ensure your care is safe and effective.
Can a chiropractor put a disc back in place?
Chiropractors use spinal adjustments to normalize motion within the spinal segments. This can help reduce disc material compression, pressure on nerves, and muscle spasms. All result in relief and faster recovery from disc injuries.
How long does it take for a disc herniation to heal?
The healing time for disc herniations varies from person to person and largely depends on the severity of the herniation and its associated inflammation. Patients who can avoid aggravating activities and engage in therapeutic ones recover much quicker.
Can you massage a bulging disc back into place?
While massage therapy can alleviate some symptoms related to muscle spasms, it cannot physically move a bulging disc back into place. It is one piece of the well-rounded approach we offer at Brown Chiropractic.
What is the best painkiller for a herniated disc?
The best painkiller for a herniated disc varies based on individual needs, but chiropractic care can often provide pain relief without medication. OTC medications can be taken per the instructions on the package. Often, care can be co-managed with your PCP, who can prescribe appropriate medication.
What should you not do with a herniated disc?
Avoiding heavy lifting, poor posture, long sitting, and high-impact activities can help prevent the re-aggravation of a herniated disc.
What are the signs of a “slipped” or herniated disc in your back?
Signs of a herniated disc include localized or radiating pain, numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness in an extremity. The pain is worse with sitting or bending movements and in the morning. The pain does not start to improve after a day or two.
Can chiropractors in Yarmouth, Maine, make things worse?
While there is always a risk to any treatment, we do everything we can during the history and evaluation to determine if your disc injury is safe to treat with manipulation and if it’s likely to respond to care. If spinal manipulation isn’t tolerated or deemed safe, we have other treatment options until the disc heals and becomes more receptive to manipulation.
Can a chiropractor fix a pinched nerve?
Chiropractors can often alleviate the pressure on a pinched nerve through spinal adjustments and other therapeutic techniques, including manual therapies and exercises like nerve flossing and directional preference therapy.
What is the best exercise for a bulging disc?
The best exercise for a bulging disc depends on the individual’s condition and should be tailored to their specific needs. Typically, extension movements and short walks can be a good place to start. Core strengthening and spinal stability are the long-term solutions to prevent re-injury or future disc episodes.