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A herniated disc refers to a problem with one of the rubbery cushions (discs) between the individual bones (vertebrae) that make up your spine. Sometimes called a slipped disc or a ruptured disc, a herniated disc occurs when some of the soft center of the disc pushes out through a crack in the tougher exterior.
You can have a herniated disc without knowing it – herniated discs sometimes show up on spinal images of people who have no symptoms of a disc problem. But some herniated discs can be painful. Most herniated discs occur in your lower back (lumber spine), although they can also occur in your neck (cervical spine).
Common signs and symptoms of a herniated disc are arm or leg pain, numbness or tingling and weakness. Seek attention for a herniated disc if neck or back pain travels down your arm or leg, or if numbness, tingling or weakness accompanies it.
A small percentage of people with herniated disks eventually need surgery. Your doctor may suggest surgery if conservative treatments fail to improve your symptoms, especially if you continue to experience numbness or weakness, difficulty standing or walking, or loss of bladder or bowel control.
In many cases, surgeons can perform a less invasive surgery and remove just the protruding portion of the disk. Rarely, the entire disk must be removed. In these cases, the vertebrae may need to be fused together with metal hardware to provide spinal stability. Your surgeon may suggest the implantation of an artificial disk, though it is uncommon.
Chiropractors use manual therapies, such as spinal and manual manipulation and mobilization, which can be effective for the treatment of herniated discs. Spinal manipulation, or chiropractic adjustment, applies pressure to the disc and is meant to improve functionality, reduce nerve irritability, and restore range of motion in the back. Mobilization moves and stretches the muscles and joints in order to increase the range of motion.
This approach, as with all back pain treatments, is to prevent chronic back pain. Actively caring for your body through exercise and a healthier lifestyle can help prevent chronic pain.
Physical Therapy Approach
Physical therapists can show you positions and exercises designed to minimize the pain of a herniated disk. A physical therapist may also recommend applying heat or ice to the area affected by the herniated disc, spinal compression therapy, ultrasound therapy, electrotherapy and/or short-term bracing for the neck or lower back.
Massage is not absolutely contraindicated for disc herniation; treatment methods should be used cautiously. The transverse processes protect the nerve roots from further compression during most massage techniques, but minor vertebral movements that occur from pressure applied to the region could aggravate symptoms.
Massage is helpful to decrease muscle tension in the area and may reduce compressive loading on the disc. However, this massage also should be performed carefully and only once the extent of the disorder has been clarified.