- How bad is it?
- I’m an active person, this can’t happen to me!
- Back pain doesn’t run in my family
- Will I need surgery?
- But I felt fine yesterday!
I Was Fine Yesterday!While this statement can be true for those who were injured through a car accident or other type of injury, it is rare to have your back suddenly “go out.” Most of us simply choose to ignore some of the warning signs and red flags.
Diagnosing Back ProblemsBefore you can begin any type of program to heal your back, you need a diagnosis since back pain comes from many different problems. Your chiropractor is a specialist in musculoskeletal make-up of the body, especially the spine. As a specialist, the doctor will take a complete medical history, including the events leading up to the problem. A thorough physical exam will follow, as well as tests including an X-ray or an MRI. This will help the doctor determine the exact cause of your pain and what treatment program should be followed.
A Very Common ProblemIf the doctor diagnoses you with a herniated disc, you might immediately think of surgery. In many cases, this isn’t necessary.
What Is a Herniated Disc?Between the bones of the spine, called the vertebrae, there are small, pillow-like discs. These discs are there to prevent the bones from rubbing against one another and to absorb shock from activities such as running. When an injury occurs to the spine or when too much pressure is placed on it, these discs can become so compressed that the outside layer breaks apart, allowing the softer inside of the disc to be pushed out, similar to a tube of toothpaste if you squeezed one end very hard. This is sometimes called a ruptured disc. While you might hear the term “slipped” disc, this isn’t true since the disc cannot slip out from between the vertebrae.
What Are the Symptoms of a Herniated Disc?While some people feel little or no pain, more common symptoms of a herniated disc include:
- Pain, sometimes intense, usually in the lower back
- Pain that can radiate from the back down the legs
- Pain in the lower back when sitting or when bending forward
- Muscle spasms
- Numbness or tingling in the legs or hands
- Stiff, painful neck
- Pain that becomes worse at night
- Muscle weakness
What Causes a Herniated Disc?A disc can be damaged in accidents, such as car or motorcycle accidents, workplace accidents, or even from simply twisting or turning while you lift a heavy object. Most herniated discs, however, are simply due to the normal wear and tear on the body. As we age, the discs in our spine become more brittle and they lose some of their water content, which makes them more susceptible to splitting. Being overweight puts more of a strain on the spine, as well as living a sedentary lifestyle, which weakens the muscles which support the spine. While herniated discs are more common in men than women, it can happen to anyone at almost any age.
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Can’t I Just Ignore It and Wait for the Disc to Heal?While you could try and tough it out, there are complications that can occur with this method. A severely herniated disc can lead to permanent nerve damage, which can cut off the feelings in the lower back. This means you could lose control of your bladder and bowel functions. Another possible complication is called “saddle anesthesia.” Imagine all the places your body would touch on a saddle if you were riding a horse. This area around the inner thighs and groin area can become numb, which can also lead to a lack of feeling in the bowels and bladder. This is why proper treatment by a qualified chiropractor is so important! More than anything else, you just want that pain to stop, especially when you are trying to sleep at night! The following 5 strategies can offer serious pain relief for those with herniated discs.
1) Heat, Ice, and Related ModalitiesMany people with herniated discs suffer from painful muscle spasms. These can frequently be relieved with heat packs. You can try different forms of heat therapy to see which method works best for you. Some people find that moist heat, such as a hot water bottle, works well for them while others find that the adhesive type of heat wraps, such as the kind sold in drugstores, provide them with enough heat to keep them comfortable all day. If you have them available, saunas or Jacuzzi can also help to relieve muscle spasms. If you can find a comfortable position, a hot bath with Epsom salts is also a welcome relief. Ice can also work well to stop the pain of a herniated disc, at least temporarily. Applying ice packs to the painful areas can reduce swelling and limits inflammation. Always wrap an ice pack and use it for 10 minutes on, then 10 minutes off for best results. Your chiropractor might suggest other modalities to help limit your pain, such as low-level laser light therapy, ultrasound, or chiropractic massage, depending on your exact situation.
2) The McKenzie MethodThis is a comprehensive set of both evaluation and exercises that your chiropractor will oversee and teach you how to perform on your own. The chiropractor will perform an assessment to determine what movements cause the most pain and how these movements can be altered to decrease current pain levels while allowing healing measure to take place. There are several different classifications of McKenzie therapy, but you will need a professional, such as your chiropractor, to guide you through the assessment and teach you the proper techniques, as well as the strengthening exercises that are designed to prevent future problems.
3) Anti-Inflammation Foods and SupplementsInflammation causes pain. You can limit inflammation by eliminating foods that cause inflammation, as well as by following an anti-inflammatory diet. You can also greatly reduce the pain of inflammation by consuming some anti-inflammatory supplements, such as:
- Green Tea
4) Tips for Sitting and SleepingThe pain of herniated discs worsens at night because inflammation builds up whenever humans sit still. Also, while the pain becomes worse for many people at night, for others, the pain of a herniated disc is worse when sitting, walking, or standing. It depends on where the herniated disc is located.
How to Sleep with a Herniated Disc?The trick to sleeping with this painful problem is to find a position that prevents the disc from touching and irritating the nerve ending. The following methods are helpful for most people.
- Try different positions. If you usually lie on your back, try sleeping on your stomach. If you lie on your right side, try your left side.
- Use pillows. Many people find that using extra pillows releases the pressure on the affected area. Try a pillow between your knees or one that elevates your head or feet. Others find comfort with body pillows, which run the length of the body and can be pushed into different positions to support the body.
- Consider a reclining chair. If lying down flat is uncomfortable in any position, you might want to try sleeping in a reclining chair. If possible, consider buying an adjustable bed.
How to Sit with a Herniated Disc?While many people find sleeping uncomfortable, there are also a great many people who find sitting downright painful when they have a herniated disc. You can try the following methods to reduce pain while sitting:
- Use a special chair. There are ergonomic, very adjustable chairs for those with herniated discs. These chairs often come with lumbar support and a variety of adjustments to make sitting as comfortable as possible.
- Think outside the chair. If you work at an office job, you might try using a yoga ball (sometimes called a stability ball) or a kneeling chair, which distributes weight more evenly along your thighs, rather than rely strictly on your back and bottom.
- Consider cushions. Some people find that special cushions, such as the U-shaped type, relieve pressure when they sit. You might also find that a memory foam pillow designed for chairs can cushion the problem area.
5) Chiropractic CareAre chiropractors good for herniated disc pain? One of the best ways to reduce your pain is to see your chiropractor sooner rather than later! Through spinal manipulation, your chiropractor can shift pressure away from the affected area, improving healing time and reducing pain. Your chiropractor can be especially helpful if your herniated disc is causing sciatic pain. By realigning the spine, it relieves pressure on the discs. Less pressure on the discs means they can move away from the nerves. Your chiropractor is a professional who specializes in the nerves and complete musculoskeletal system of the body, so they understand what is causing your pain and how to effectively offer you pain relief while the body heals.
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About the Author
Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab and has been a chiropractor for over 20 years. His practice has treated thousands of patients from different health problems using services designed to help give long-lasting relief.
Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe, Organic Facts, and Thrive Global. He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. And he continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.