What is a spinal disc?
Disc is like a cushion sitting between each two vertebrae of spinal column. The back portion of the disc is located very close to spinal cord and the lateral portions of disc are in close vicinity of spinal nerves which originate from the spinal cord. A disc bulge or herniation in the back or lateral portions of the disc could often apply a pressure on the spinal cord or nerve causing a series of symptoms.
What is a disc bulge or herniation?
Human disc resembles a donut filled with jelly, with a harder outer shell and a soft or semi solid nucleus. A disc could form a bulge when its outer wall is pushed out due to compressive forces applied to the disc, such as the forces from a fall, an auto accident, or lifting a heavy object. A disc could be herniated when the forces are of greater magnitude which will lead to rupture of disc and exit of disc nucleus. A weakened disc, which is often a result of spinal wear and tear or arthritis, could also be the cause for formation of a disc bulge or herniation.
What are the symptoms of a disc bulge or herniation?
Pain, ache, soreness, stiffness, numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, and radiating pain are commonly experienced symptoms by the patients. In severe and serious cases bowel and bladder control and function is lost or impaired.
Treatment options for disc bulge or herniation
The age, severity of symptoms, level of patient's activity, and extent of disc injury are deciding factors in choosing a treatment method against the other. It is common sense that the cause, and not just the symptoms, has to be addressed for complete or favorable resolution. In general, conservative and non invasive treatment has to be tried and exhausted primarily before other invasive methods are used. A common occurrence with disc herniation and bulge is inflammation of the spinal cord or nerve. All the therapies and treatment methods or techniques are primarily targeted toward reduction of inflammation. Common treatment approaches include:
The approach taken by conventional medicine is summarized as prescription of anti-inflammatory medication, administration of cortisone injection, and surgery. All the commonly used medications or injections have side effects, more so when they are used frequently or over a long period of time. These drugs often mask the symptoms for a short period of time without taking care of the cause -i.e.cord or nerve compression. Surgery has to be tried only when all the conservative therapies have been exhausted due to the low success rate and associated risks.
Home remedies such as icing could be very effective since it accomplishes the same thing as the over the counter drugs to certain degree. Heat needs to be avoided as it exacerbates the inflammation. If ice is used a reusable pack could be used 3-6 times per day (depending on the severity of the symptoms), 15 minutes each time and at least an hour apart.
Herbal supplements, such as Boswellia, could provide anti-inflammatory remedy without side effects.
Conservative therapies such as chiropractic and physical therapy are proven to be effective in many cases.
Chiropractic treatment of disc bulge or herniation
The treatment is directed to eliminate the cause (i.e. compression of spinal cord or nerve by a disc bulge or herniation), while trying to control symptoms by therapies such as electrical muscle stimulation, ultrasound, and cold laser therapy. The following are some of the common and effective treatment techniques used by a chiropractor:
Cold laser therapy seems to be a promising therapy for disc treatment as it not only helps with reduction of patient's symptoms, it also is proven to be effective in healing and repair process of the disc.
No-Force techniques such as flexion-distraction (F/D) and Sacro-Occipital Technique (SOT).
F/D technique tends to reduce compression of the spinal cord or nerve and helps in resorption of the disc bulge or herniation. A special table is used for performing this technique.
SOT makes use of a couple of wooden block cushions and patient's own body weight to alleviate the pressure on the cord and nerve
Inversion technique, which involves use of an inversion table, might also help some of disc sufferers.