The ins and outs of Bulging Discs
Bulging Disc. Slipped Disc. Protruding Disc. Herniated Disc. All these are terms for essentially the same thing, and they can cause a great deal of pain.
Bulging discs are a very common occurrence, and can happen at any point on the spine from neck to tail. Fortunately, Chiropractors are experts in spinal care, and able to treat the problem effectively.
What is a bulging disc?
Spinal discs are the cartiligous pads that sit between the vertebrae, absorbing shock and providing flexibility. They are also the point where the spinal nerves exit the spinal canal and travel out to the rest of the body.
Each disk has at its center a gelatinous nucleus, held together by a fibrous outer layer called the annulus. When a disc is ‘bulging’, the inner gelatinous core is putting pressure on the annulus, causing it to ‘bulge’ out of its normal shape. This puts pressure on the nerves exiting the spinal canal, causing pain. A disc is considered to have herniate when the annulus tears and the inner nucleus protrudes fully through the outer covering.
There are a number of potential causes of damage to the spinal discs:
- Sudden Load or Trauma – discs can sustain damage suddenly in the case of accident, such as a car accident of bad fall, or through poor lifting technique of a heavy load, which places strain on the spine.
- Accumulated Trauma – much like RSI, repeated poor lifting technique or poor posture over a long period of time can cause accumulated damage to a disc, resulting in bulging
- Environmental – excess abdominal fat, poor core stability and lower limb strength. Whilst these are unlikely to cause bulging discs in themselves, when combined with sudden or accumulated trauma they will certainly contribute to the likelihood of damage
- Genetics and Pre-Existing Weakness – some people have a weakness in the annulus, or it may have a higher than normal elastin component, making it less sturdy. While this is generally not a problem, it can leave them at increased risk of bulging discs.
Pain is generally the first symptom that people notice, although it is the last to develop. The pain is caused by the bulging annulus putting pressure on the nerves as they exit the spinal canal.
Bulging Disc pain is generally exacerbated by lifting, sitting, bending and even coughing or sneezing.
As the condition worsens you may feel pins and needles, tingling, numbness and sciatic pain. If you experience bladder or bowel disruption you should seek immediate medical attention, as this could mean the disc has herniated. A fully herniated disc may require surgery so it is essential to see a professional as soon as possible.
A medical professional will likely order an MRI or CT scan in order to confirm the cause of your pain.
The first stage of treatment will aim to encourage the nucleus to return to the center of the disc in order to reduce pressure on the annulus. This will reduce the pain and allow the annulus to build up some scar tissue, making it stronger. Your Chiropractor will recommend anti-inflammatory medication, taping or bracing of the affected area, and use dry needling and soft tissue massage. Based on which area of the spine is affected, there will be certain positions and movements you should avoid and your Chiropractor will talk you through these.
Once the initial pain and inflammation has subsided, your Chiropractor will begin to recommend exercises aimed at improving your core strength, stabilizing the spine and improving your range of motion.
Once your core strength has improved exercised aimed at lengthening the muscles, and remedial massage will be used to ensure all the core muscles are at optimum strength to support the spine.
An Ounce of Prevention
Once you have had a Bulging Disc, you won’t ever want to experience it again. Sadly, depending on the cause of the initial episode, many people suffer a recurrence. Luckily, there are things you can do to reduce that risk:
- Make sure you continue with your rehab until your Chiropractor is happy with the result. Just because you feel better, it does not mean the problem is completely resolved, so listen to the experts and keep going until they say you can stop!
- Your Chiropractor should be like your dentist. You should go for regular ‘checkups’ just to make sure problems aren’t developing. Your practitioner will tell you how often you should check in once you are back to full health.
- Have your Chiropractor check out your lower limbs to make sure you have no underlying postural problems that are contributing to your disc problems. Sometimes orthotics, or chair pads to help with posture can make all the difference.
If you are suffering from back pain, and think it might be a bulging or herniated disc, call our clinic on 9639 7337 to make an appointment with our experience Chiropractor.