Lumbar Disc Herniation

Blown disc, slipped disc, herniated disc, bulging disc, etc.  There are many names for a vertibral disc herniation.  This is a hard subject to keep short.  I will attempt to just give basic, simplified information to limit the length of this post.

A disc herniation has various levels as with most injuries.  The worse the herniation the more complicated the symptoms and the treatment.  Most herniations can be resolved and respond well to conservative care such as chiropractic.  In fact most herniations will resolve on their own in 6 months, but no one wants to wait 6 months for their back pain to go away.  With chiropractic treatment the symptoms are often reduced to less than 50% in 6 weeks or less, and can at times be resolved completely in as little as 3 months.

Disc herniations can happen to anyone and they don’t have to just be in the low back.  They can happen due to constant pressure of poor posture, sudden pressure due to trauma, weakened muscles and ligaments or weaknesses you’ve had since birth.

Some of the signs that you may have a herniation are: a sudden onset of low back and possibly leg pain that can go all the way down the leg.  The pain is usually described as a sharp or shooting pain and increases with bending forward, (although this direction of bending is typical it is not universal) or pressure increases such as coughing, sneezing or having a bowel movement.

Image from Spine Universe

Image from Spine Universe

Treatment for disc herniations are many,  the ultimate goal is to get the disc to reabsorb back in.  To understand any treatment you must understand the nature of an intervertebral disc.  (video) It’s kind of like a Jelly donut.  If you squeeze a jelly donut the jelly comes out.  If you only do it a little bit and then take the pressure off the jelly will kind of suck back in.  If you relieve the pressure and the damage isn’t too severe the disc will suck it’s nucleus back in and repair with time.  This is called decompression.  It can be accomplished many ways, and there is still debate as to which method is best.

The big problem with disc herniations is that often the pain is too severe to receive treatment.  So, the initial goal is to reduce pain enough to be able to be treatment.  The sooner you can get up and moving around the better the prognosis is going to be, even though there is severe pain. Some pain control techniques are cold packs, electric stim, mechanical spinal decompression, and if required pain medication.

The next goal is to centralize the pain.  Many patients worry when their back starts to hurt worse, but if the pain is coming out of the legs and centering around the pain generator it is a good thing.  Centralizing the pain means that we are relieving the pressure on the nerve.  After the pain is centralized, treatment becomes more normal and regular.

Once you’ve had a disc herniation you may be predisposed to injury in the future, therefore it is essential that you begin some form of core strengthening routine to build up your muscles so that they can protect from future injury.

Disc herniations can be very painful and can interrupt your life for quite some time.  The good news is that with chiropractic care you can often avoid surgery and be back to normal again relatively quickly.

More info…

4 thoughts on “Lumbar Disc Herniation

  1. Deb

    My brother is in complete agony from this atm, nothing else has helped so is there anything surgical that can be done to help?

    1. cmnacnud Post author

      Deb. Surgery can remove the disc or a portion of it. There are even new (relatively) disc replacement products. There are people who are candidates for back surgery, but not very many. In fact because of the risks of the surgery many doctors will not even do surgery on minor disc herniations, they wait until the symptoms are endangering more vital systems. Often patients with back surgery will come out with no improvement or worse symptoms than before. If you choose surgery make sure you have exhausted all of your other options. Good luck.

    2. cmnacnud Post author

      There are procedures, most I would not recommend except as a last resort, but in general I feel that surgery should be a last resort. For better explanation of your surgical options regarding disc herniations I would recommend contacting a surgeon.


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