A bulged (and sometimes herniated or ‘slipped’) disc in the spine is something that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It’s excruciating, debilitating, and downright frustrating.
If you’re reading this then chances are you want to know A.) Why it happened, and B.) What can be done about it– which I will try to address in layman’s terms. (If you are interested in a more detailed anatomical/physiological explanation check out this great site at chirogeek.com).
In layman’s terms I’ll first explain WHY disc bulges happen:
The spinal disc is like a fluid-filled gel pack or jelly donut between the bones of the spine that help cushion, support, add flexibility to the spine as well as act like a spacer for spinal nerves to exit the spinal cord and travel to the body. The center of the disc has a toothpaste-like consistency and the outer part is more fibrous. The disc can be also be injured- particularly with forceful twisting or bending motions. When this happens, the fibers of back part the disc can tear, causing a weakness in the disc and a bulge on the back side of the disc that can put pressure on the two spinal nerves that leave the spinal cord at that level. THAT’s when the pain starts. Pain sensors in the rear part of the disc and/or the spinal nerves start firing and take you on an adrenaline-fueled roller coaster of agony.
Now why does it REALLY happen:
Discs don’t just bulge on their own, just like bones won’t spontaneously break on their own. I’ll try to explain here the true underlying cause.
In my opinion the formula for disc injury is:
A- Previous spinal damage (misalignment) + B- low back and core weakness + C- a single or multiple repeated unsafe movements or postures = Disc injury
Of course there are exceptions and not everyone who gets injured has factors ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’ affecting them to the same degree but this seems to be the combination that I most often encounter.
With ‘A’- Previous spinal damage/misalignment– an individual is at a disadvantage due to a structural weakness. If you look at the pictures below, hopefully it is easy to guess which person is more likely to handle stress on their low back:
Hopefully you assumed that the individual on the left is better able to avoid disc injuries because of how perfectly balanced their pelvis and spine are. This person is more likely to be able to bear forces on their spine in an even and balanced way. The person on the right however has a shift in their pelvis causing it to drop down to the left side, which then causes their low back to drop to the left and is already likely to have stress on the discs of the low back. We don’t know to what degree their spine is imbalanced until I look at their video xray and still xrays.
With ‘B’- low back and core weakness an individual is at a disadvantage because they don’t have the muscular tone to stabilize their spine properly. In this picture is an example of an individual who is at a great advantage NOT to suffer from disc injury in the future.
‘C’ can be a range of things- sports injuries as a kid, poor posture while working at a desk for 5 years, bad gardening techniques, weightlifting improperly, using poor lifting technique over and over again. These stresses on your back have the potential to build up microtrauma and cause misalignments (factor A) in your spinal discs until you reach the fateful day where while bending over to pick up a dirty sock from the ground the disc finally tears and you have a full-blown disc bulge.
So now that your disc has bulged, what can be done about it?
The simple answer is- the opposite of what caused the problem in the first place (or the opposite of factors A, B, and C above).
At Progressive Chiropractic (Sannich/Victoria, BC) we use x-ray and video motion xray to determine what the misalignment is and how to correct it. At the same time we can actually see how your spine is moving and functioning. Adjusting misaligned vertebrae back into proper position allows discs to return to a position that they can heal without constant tension on them, while often taking pressure off irritated nerves. Chiropractic adjustments also improve blood flow and movement in the low back, allowing inflammatory by-product to be pumped out of the area and nutrients to flow in. After a patient feels better, chiropractic on a maintenance basis can help keep the spine aligned and moving properly for a lifetime.
Once a patient begins to feel better we address weaknesses and inflexibility of the low back by recommending stretching and strengthening exercises to get the back stronger, more flexible, and more resilient to future injuries.
We also give advice on proper posture, ergonomics, and lifting techniques to help prevent unnecessary injury to the low back in the future, however this is the area in which an individual must hold themselves accountable.
Injuries to spinal discs happen because there is an underlying cause. Chiropractic can help heal and prevent future injuries from happening.