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Can a chiropractor help with bulging/slipped discs?
Disc bulges, also commonly known as a slipped disc, bulging or protruding disc, can happen anywhere in the spine. This most commonly can happen in the low back, irritating nerves causing sciatic type pain (that is, pain down the legs). They may also happen in the neck and pinch the nerves there, causing pain going down the arm. Find out how chiropractors may help with herniated discs.
What are the symptoms of a disc bulge
Often people can experience:
- Burning sensation
- Muscle weakness
- Extreme cases, changes in bowel and bladder
What causes a disc bulge/herniation?
In this case disc bulges happen because of smaller forces placed on the back over prolonged periods of time. The typical example of this is being in a job that requires you to sit down for hours at a time.
Over time, long periods of sitting causes the disc to slowly thin and can compress/ irritate nearby nerves. Unfortunately this type of injury is a slow process, most people don’t realise they have a disc bulge until the late stages when it starts to give them nerve pain.
This happens due to a sudden big event causing trauma to the spine. This may be due to doing a 200kg deadlift, or falling from a snowboarding accident. Because the discs are the shock absorbers of the spine, this sudden event can cause the fibres holding the disc together to tear and cause pain.
Unfortunately you can inherit weak discs or spinal canals that are smaller than the normal. This factor is minor compared to the environmental factors effecting the discs.
What causes a disc herniation?
A disc bulge is one of the early signs of spinal disc degeneration. A disc herniation can be caused by a disc that continues to bulge, due to ongoing stressors. The herniation occurs when the inner, jelly-like centre pushed out through the outer ring. This event may lead to compression or irritation to the nearby nerve roots, leading to a range of painful symptoms.
How is a disc bulge diagnosed
Your Chiropractor or General Practitioner will suspect a disc bulge based on the history of your pain and signs during a physical examination. Your practitioner may refer you for further images to confirm a diagnosis. The gold standard of visualising the discs in the back is an MRI. An X-ray is not great at visualising the discs, but can still be used to see the thing of discs or arthritic changes around the spine that may also be contributing to your symptoms.
Chiropractic and disc bulges
Chiropractors deal with patients suffering from disc bulges on a daily basis. Depending on the type and severity of the disc bulge, treatment may range from the use of adjustments, mobilisations, rehabilitation exercises, massage and stretches to manage the pain and increase the function of the unhealthy joints that caused the disc bulge in the first place.
One study, published in The Spine Journal, concluded that:
How do I know if I need surgery?
Generally, surgery is the last option. Conservative, non-invasive treatment such as Chiropractic is the first line of treatment for a disc. If a trial of conservative treatment is shown to be unsuccessful, then a referral to a spinal surgeon will be considered. Also, any changes in bowel and bladder control may warrant an immediate referral to a spinal surgeon.
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 Chiropractic manipulation in the treatment of acute back pain and sciatica with disc protrusion: a randomized double-blind clinical trial of active and simulated spinal manipulations
Santilli, Valter et al. The Spine Journal , Volume 6 , Issue 2 , 131 – 137. URL: http://www.thespinejournalonline.com/article/S1529-9430(05)00833-8/abstract