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Disc Injury

Disc injuries can be debilitating and tricky to treat. Balanced Body Chiropractic understands the impact of disc injuries and aims to manage pain with minimal discomfort and assist recovery. A comprehensive examination is required to determine the best pathway of care for you.

Disc injuries have many names; disc bulge, prolapse or a slipped disc. The discs of the spine are layered between the bones of our spine (vertebra) and provide shock absorption during the day’s activity. Our discs also create space between the vertebra to allow for nerves travelling from the spinal cord to get to the body without pressure. This clear space allows our nerves function at their best! The disc itself is made up a spongy middle that is circled by a fibrous band. The circular fibrous band is attached to the vertebral bones above and below, keeping the spongy centre contained.
How are discs injured?

Injury to the discs usually occurs due to trauma (acute) or due to continuous wear and tear (chronic). In the case of acute trauma, a sudden impact on the spine or body causes the spongy middle to “slip” out of the fibrous band . Some situations where this can happen are:

  • falling from a great height
  • sustaining a force from an object falling the head
  • direct impact of an object on the spine
  • during a motor vehicle accident
  • lifting and twisting a heavy load.

Chronic injuries are usually seen where a person performs a particular activity with poor technique, or is compensating for or protecting another part of their body long term by using their back to do most of the work. This places pressure on the entire spine, causing tiny micro tearing to the fibrous band surrounding the spongy disc. The tears themselves may mild cause irritation, which is usually an early warning sign that something is not right. Over time, the micro tears build to a point where the body cannot keep up with repair. When the fibrous band begins to “bulge” it presses on the spinal cord or nerves, causing pain. It is possible for the fibrous band to completely fail (during normal activity or a sudden increase in heavy work load). The spongy part of the disc “slips” out from the centre, pushing on the fibrous band and pressing on the nerves or spinal cord nearby.

Occasionally, continuous wear and tear on the fibrous band may decrease the ability for the entire disc to withstand trauma. In this case, a person may proceed form day to day with no pain or difficulty, until a traumatic event occurs (minor or major). What follows, is a traumatic event that a person with healthy discs may have otherwise been able to withstand, becoming a disc injury in an individual with damaged discs. Smoking, excess alcohol consumption and nutritional deficiency significantly affects the health of vertebral discs.

What causes pain in a disc injury?

Our discs are surrounded by a rich network of nerves; the spinal cord, exiting nerve roots and peripheral (body) nerves. When the spongy centre of the disc “slips”, it pushes on these nerves, creating pain signals that are sent to the brain where they are translated into a pain message. The injured nerves also send protective signals to the muscles and skin that it supplies. This may cause the muscles to tighten and the skin to feel like it is burning, numb or tingly. This is why disc injury can cause you to feel pain that is far away for the site of disc injury. Some other symptoms of disc injury include;

  • *numbness or tingling on the skin
  • burning sensation
  • weak and/or wasting muscles
  • tightness and stiffness of the back
  • poor reflexes
  • poor coordination
  • nausea/vomiting
  • headache
  • *loss of bowel of bladder control
  • *intense pain in the legs, arms, neck or back
* if experiencing these symptoms with a lower back injury, seek medical assistance without delay!

Chiropractic Care for Disc Injury

It is important to be examined thoroughly following a disc injury. Your chiropractor will take a full history, perform a range of orthopaedic, neurological and functional testing to determine the suspected severity of your injury and how best to proceed with managing your care. In some cases, it may be necessary to be referred for radiological imaging. Chiropractic care aims to reduce the immediate severity of your symptoms using appropriate and adjustment techniques and soft tissue manipulation. Your chiropractor will also provide advice on how to maintain safe levels of activity, self manage your improvement with stretching and exercise prescription. In the case of disc injury, your core stability may also be addressed in order to prevent disc injury in the future. 

Back injuries recover with greater success when you stay mobile. Rest can be helpful, along with reducing some types of activity. Stay as active as you possibly can, be guided by your pain limits in achieving the best possible outcome for recovery form your disc injury. Early diagnosis of disc injury may result in better outcomes for recovery long term.