When you hear the term “slipped” or “ruptured” disc in the neck or lower back, what this actually means is disc herniation – a common cause of pain in the neck, lower back, arms, or legs.
Anatomy of the low back
Discs are soft, rubbery pads found between the hard bones (vertebrae) that comprise the spinal column. The discs between the vertebrae enable the back to flex or bend and also act as shock absorbers.
Causes of a disc herniation
A disc herniates or ruptures when part of the centre nucleus pushes through the periphery of the disc and back toward the spinal canal. This places pressure on the nerves. Spinal nerves are extremely sensitive to even slight amounts of pressure.
Risk factors for disc herniation
In children and young adults, discs have high-water content. As we get older, the water content in the discs reduces and the discs become less flexible. The discs start to shrink and the spaces between the vertebrae get narrower. Conditions that can weaken the disc include:
• Improper lifting
• Excessive body weight that places added stress on the discs particularly in the lower back
• Sudden pressure (which may be slight)
• Repetitive strenuous activities
Symptoms of disc herniation in the low back
• Sharp, shooting pain that extends from the buttocks down the back of one leg is the most common symptom.
• Weakness in one leg
• Tingling (“pins-and-needles” sensation) or numbness in one leg or buttock
• A burning pain centered in the back
Treatment for a disc herniation
Chiropractic treatment is effective in treating the symptoms of herniated discs in more than 90% of patients. These can include:
• Muscle relaxers and anti-inflammatory medications can be helpful.
• Cold compresses or ice can be applied a couple of times a day for 20 minutes at a time.
• After any spasms settle, gentle heat applications can be employed.
• Any physical exercise needs to be slow and controlled, particularly bending forward and lifting. This will help to ensure that symptoms do not return-as can taking short walks and avoiding sitting for long periods. To avoid future episodes of pain, it is important that you be instructed in how to properly stand, sit, and lift.
• If these nonsurgical treatment measures fail, cortisone injections may lessen nerve irritation and enable more effective participation in chiropractic treatment.