Understanding Disc Injuries- Back to Basics

First and foremost, what is a spinal disc?

A spinal disc, also known as an intervertebral disc, is basically a cushion located between each of the joints of our back. These discs act as shock absorbers, providing flexibility and support to the spine while allowing for movement. Each disc has a tough outer layer called the annulus fibrosus and a gel-like inner core called the nucleus pulposus. They play a crucial role in maintaining the structural integrity and function of the spine.

What happens when discs are injured?

A herniated spinal disc, also known as a slipped or ruptured disc, is a common source of back and neck pain that affects millions of people worldwide. This condition occurs when the soft inner core of a spinal disc protrudes through the tough outer layer, putting pressure on nearby nerves and causing discomfort. Or do they? It is entirely possible to have a small disc bulge in our backs as we speak and to be completely symptom-free and none the wiser.

However, lets explore what could cause a disc injury. These are 3 of the more common reasons.

  • Age-related Degeneration: As we age, the spinal discs lose water content and become less flexible, making them more prone to herniation.
  • Repetitive Strain: Jobs or activities that involve repetitive lifting, bending, or twisting motions can contribute to disc degeneration and herniation over time.
  • Sudden Trauma: Accidents, falls, or sports injuries can put excessive force on the spine, causing a disc to herniate suddenly.

Something else to consider is our spinal discs rehydrate overnight leading to an increase in size. This is why we often have stiffer backs in the morning because the disc is occupying more space, interesting eh? While this is not a bad thing, it also means we have an increased risk of injury in the morning. We always advise against heavy lifting early in the morning, or too much bending forward when we are fresh out of bed. Instead, consider gentle exercises that extend the spine such as stretching backwards or yoga positions such as the cobra pose. Have a look at our video below for ideas!

How do you know if your pain is from a disc or something else?

The symptoms of a herniated disc vary depending on the location and severity of the condition. Common signs include:

1. Pain: Herniated discs can cause localised pain in the neck or back, as well as radiating pain that travels down the arms or legs. The pain may worsen with movement, coughing, or sneezing.

2. Numbness and Tingling: Pressure on the spinal nerves can lead to numbness, tingling, or weakness in the affected area. For example, a herniated disc in the lower back may cause sciatic symptoms, such as pain, numbness, and tingling that radiates down the leg.

3. Muscle Weakness: Severe herniations may compress nerves to the extent that muscle weakness or difficulty controlling movement occurs in the affected area.

4. Changes in Reflexes: In some cases, herniated discs can affect reflexes, leading to diminished reflex responses in the arms or legs.

So what should I do if I think I have a disc injury?

The real problem lies in the fact that many other conditions can also cause the symptoms listed here, even something as simple as a tight muscle. If you are worried about a possible disc injury, then we encourage you seek out the help of manual therapists such as our chiropractic team here at Acorn Health. We are trained in testing for, identifying and even helping manage disc problems. We can also work alongside your GP to help get you any analgesia you might need in the short term and identify if you would benefit from diagnostic imaging such as MRI or X-ray. We are glad to add that most of the time this isn’t necessary, and the results of imaging only change the initial management plan in extreme cases.

There is further good news, while some risk factors for herniated discs, such as age and genetics, cannot be changed, adopting healthy habits can help reduce the likelihood of developing this condition. Maintaining good posture, practicing proper body mechanics when lifting heavy objects, staying physically active, and avoiding smoking can all contribute to spinal health and reduce the risk of disc herniation.

So, understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for herniated spinal discs is essential for effectively managing this common spinal condition. By taking proactive steps to address risk factors and seek appropriate medical care, individuals can minimise pain, improve mobility, and enhance their overall quality of life.

What next?

You might find this blog helpful: Understanding the fabled ‘slipped disc!

Acorn Health Amesbury, Acorn Health Wilton, back pain, chiropractic, chiropractor Wilton, Stonehenge, Wilton chiropractic

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