Disc Issues and Back Pain

Is it my disc?

So you have back pain. A number of different things cause back pain, and without a proper examination performed by your chiropractor or other health professional getting answers can be difficult. Oftentimes our patients with disc issues and back pain have trouble pinpointing what caused it. Disc conditions do however, have some classic indications.

Your pain may be due to a disc issue if symptoms worsen:

  • In the morning
  • By sitting for over an hour
  • When lifting
  • While bending forward
  • When moving from sitting to standing
  • If you cough or sneeze
  • You work or have worked a job with heavy manual handling
  • The original injury involved bending forward or twisting while picking up or catching an object

If any of these sound like what you are experiencing, please contact us as we are very familiar with treating disc conditions every day and would be happy to help you! 

 

Normal healthy disc and vertebrae

Normal healthy disc and vertebrae

Disc Issues – What is a disc exactly?

Low back pain caused by a disc issue can be frustrating to deal with. Understanding what all the different terminology is talking about can be equally  frustrating. Before we begin to break down why your discs may be causing your pain, let’s take a moment and start with the basics. 

The rings of the annulus fibrosus keep the nucleus pulposus (in red) inside!

The rings of the annulus fibrosus keep the nucleus pulposus (in red) inside!

With one exception, all of the bones in your spine(aka vertebrae) are separated by discs. There are 6 in your neck, 12 in the mid/upper back, and 5 in your low back.

These discs (formally called intervertebral discs or IVD) help transfer pressure evenly and work as shock absorbers. They give your spine motion and are built like a sturdy jelly donut!

The jelly center of the donut is called the nucleus pulposus. Water and proteins make up the nucleus pulposus giving the spine its strength and flexibility.

The outside of the donut is called the annulus fibrosus. Alternating layers of protein make up the annulus fibrosus that keeps the jelly (nucleus pulposus) in the center and let the spine move in multiple directions safely. 

 

What’s the difference?

What’s the difference between a slipped disc vs. a disc bulge vs. a disc protrusion vs. a disc extrusion vs. a disc sequestration? Each of these is really just a descriptor that explains what the disc looks like.

Normal disc

Normal disc

The bulging disc starts to crowd the nerve root(yellow) 

The bulging disc starts to crowd the nerve root(yellow)

The disc herniation crowds and places pressure on the nerve root (yellow).

The disc herniation crowds and places pressure on the nerve root (yellow).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A degenerative disc occurs when your discs are losing their height and starting to flatten. This is normal to a certain extent with aging, but the decreased height limits your spine’s mobility and may lead to crowding or impinging of the nerves nearby.

The nucleus pulposus (red) herniates and escapes from the center of the disc - causing pain and irritating the nearby tissues.

The nucleus pulposus (red) herniates and escapes from the center of the disc – causing pain and irritating the nearby tissues.

A bulging disc is when the disc bulges out beyond the edges of the vertebrae above and below it.

A herniated disc is when the nucleus pulposus (the jelly in the jelly donut) starts to or completely busts through the lining of the disc (annulus fibrosus). This can be very problematic since they often crowd or put direct pressure on nearby nerves. The terms protrusion, extrusion, and sequestration describe the degree to which the jelly is busting out. 

So how are my discs giving me back pain?

 Injury to our discs create chemical or physical changes which lead to back pain. These injuries happen from traumatic events such as a car accident or fall. Damage can also occur after repeated compressive loading, vibration, and other micro traumas that build over time. 

Think of your discs as a jelly donut again. Except this time the jelly is actually some gooey battery acid. When that battery acid jelly bulges or escapes your disc, it causes all sorts of problems. It causes some angry inflammation because of its chemical properties, but also it can crowd the space that your nerves occupy. 

Your nerves react to this crowding and irritation by signaling to your brain that something is going on, and your brain interprets this signal as the pain you feel.

Oftentimes, patients may get steroid or cortisone injections for their back pain, which can calm down the inflammation, but doesn’t directly reduce the physical crowding of the nerves by the disc itself. Reducing the pain and dysfunction from a crowding disc takes additional treatment.

Options for disc issues and back pain – How we help you!

Here at Hart Chiropractic Center, we are very familiar with treating both disc issues and back pain! Our team successfully treats patients that have disc conditions using chiropractic adjustments, targeted massage therapy, acupuncture, therapeutic exercises, and spinal decompression. Of those treatments, our  spinal decompression is used primarily to help our patients with disc conditions.