Our spine is one of the most important structures in our body. Made from a column of 33 bones, each spaced with an intervertebral disc, our spine protects the spinal cord, gives our body structure, and enables us to bend, twist, sit, stand, and generally move around. Unfortunately, our spine and in particular our intervertebral discs are just as likely to be affected by health problems and injury as anywhere else on our body.
Intervertebral discs are round in diameter and flat on the top or bottom, providing cushioning between the bones of the spine. They have a strong, rubbery outer shell and a softer, gel-like interior. This design helps them to act as a shock absorber for the spine, absorbing any harsh impacts so that the bones remain largely undamaged. They also protect the nerves that run down the middle of the spine and intervertebral discs.
Our intervertebral discs also play a crucial role in supporting our spine and facilitating our movements. This is because the discs act as a pivot for each joint-segment in the spine, providing stability and enabling a fairly wide range of motion in various directions. When a disc is no longer properly in place, or if it becomes dehydrated, weak, and no longer pliable, it can trigger a range of unpleasant symptoms including back pain.
There are a number of different types of injuries and issues that can affect the intervertebral discs. Two of the most common include:
Degenerative disc disease is a condition that occurs as part of the natural aging process. It's characterized by the deterioration of the intervertebral discs. They dry out and become less flexible, and this also puts them at greater risk of rupturing (what is known as a herniated disc). Signs of degenerative disc disease include back pain that radiates down the legs, numbness, and weakness.
The discs are protected by a tough, fibrous outer layer. However, if you suffer an injury or the discs become severely dehydrated, the outer layer can crack, enabling the soft, inner gel to leak out. When this happens, the gel can irritate the nerve root, causing inflammation and pain among other symptoms. You may also hear of a herniated disc referred to as a ‘slipped’ disc.
Chiropractors evaluate the entire spine to see how well it is functioning overall. This is important since injuries or damage sustained in one part of your spine can affect what happens in other areas of it.
Your initial examination will be used to determine your diagnosis of a disc problem/injury and where this is likely to be. The location and type of disc injury you have will determine what techniques your chiropractor uses to alleviate your symptoms. Two of the most common techniques include the following:
Spinal manipulations – also called chiropractic or spinal adjustments – are the technique that most people are familiar with when they think of chiropractic care. This involves a professional using their hands or small instruments to apply controlled, sudden forces to spinal joints in order to release any areas of pressure, called subluxations. Your position on your chiropractor’s table and the amount of force needed can vary depending on what is needed to make an effective adjustment. You may hear cracking, popping, and creaking noises when these movements are carried out, which are actually the result of trapped gasses in the joint’s lubricating fluid being released. In performing these movements, compressed nerves are released, oxygenated blood can flow more efficiently to the area to heal it and inflammation reduces. These all help to reduce pain and improve mobility.
Spinal decompression therapy is one of the most common non-surgical techniques for treating disc injury pain. It involves stretching the spine using either a traction table or a similar motorized device with the intention of relieving back/leg pain. It does this by reducing the pressure onto the spine, preventing the disc from being squeezed out onto the surrounding nerves. Creating this lower pressure will also enable the flow of oxygenated blood and vital nutrients to the area so that it can heal. Again, this helps to reduce pain and inflammation, and improve patient mobility.
If you would like more information about relieving disc injury pain, please don’t hesitate to contact our office in Detroit, MI to schedule your appointment with our chiropractic team.