An intervertebral disc herniation (disc rupture or bulge) is a relatively common condition of the spine that causes intense pain. The pain is centrally located in the spine but will often radiate outward into the arms or legs depending on which area of the spine the herniation occurs. Disc bulges are frequently associated with improper lifting of heavy loads, but also can occur with other traumas such as a car accident or fall. A disc herniation is a condition that is very difficult to heal, but it can be managed successfully with a variety of treatment options including chiropractic care.
To understand how a disc herniation causes back pain we first need to know some anatomy about our back and spine. Your spine consists of individual bones called vertebrae. These vertebrae stack together to make your spinal column. The spinal column supports your skeletal structure, protects the spinal cord, and still allows free motion of the back. In between every stacked vertebra is an “intervertebral disc”, these discs are made of cartilage and act as shock absorbers for the spine.
Spinal degeneration is when the integrity of the spinal column is compromised and begins to deteriorate. Spinal degeneration itself will not typically cause high levels of pain, intervertebral disc degeneration however, can.
Disc degeneration is the breakdown of these cartilaginous discs within the spine, and frequently occurs as the base of the neck and the low back. If the integrity of the disc becomes so poor that it no longer can support the stress put onto the spine, it can herniate or rupture. A herniation or rupture is when parts of the disc extrude or bulge outward into the surrounding space. But how does this translate to back pain? Not only are there nociceptors (pain receptors) within the outer edge of the intervertebral disc itself, which can cause pain, but many bundles of nerves that travel out of the spinal column to the rest of the body can be found in the surrounding space as well.
When the disc ruptures and pushes outward against the adjacent nerve bundles, compression of the nerves translate to pain. The pain due to disc herniation and rupture will feel like a deep, sharp, burning sensation and will often radiate outward into the arms or legs. Sciatica would be an example of nerve compression disorder, that can be caused by disc herniation.
Most people believe that these degenerative disorders are linked to ageing and that they cannot be prevented. While ageing is a risk factor for disc degeneration, consistent chiropractic treatment may prevent and slow the degenerative process and limit any of the symptoms associated with it.
In the most severe case, disc herniation is treated with surgery to completely remove the disc that has ruptured and fuse the two adjacent vertebrae together. This is a complex surgery, and due to the amount of nervous tissue in the involved area can lead to some serious complications later in life. Surgery should only be considered as a last resort of treatment. Alternative health modalities including chiropractic care should be highly considered as a first treatment option and may often get positive results.