Updated: Oct 1, 2021
I've seen a recent uptick in vertebral disc herniations and bulges. I think it's merely coincidental, possibly due to all the stress and inactivity covid has caused people, but either way seeing the recent fear and despair in my patients' eyes has prompted me to write on the topic. I've been fortunate enough to have great success with disc cases, and I find that most people have no clue what we actually do as Corrective Care Chiropractors or how we could potentially help them prolong or avoid surgery altogether.
Research shows mixed results with all conservative forms of treatment such as physical therapy, acupuncture, and even standard chiropractic care. Because of this, the standard medical approach is typically a few rounds of PT, drugs like opioids and muscle relaxers, steroid injections, nerve ablations and when that stops working then you're ready for surgery, which research also shows mixed results within long term outcomes, with some having only a 50% success rate. This seems like a terrible way to "manage" a patient and frustrates me to no end, knowing I have a solution that works for most cases I've dealt with myself. I have however had to send people to get surgery when my solution did not work completely, that's just a reality of conservative care, but better to try that first than go under the knife needlessly.
Yikes, that doesn't look fun!
Disc bulges and herniations occur in over 3 million people a year and I'm certain that number is under-reported because of how many people DON'T seek proper care or treatment. This is because in fact small to moderate disc herniations can heal and repair themselves, so it's just a matter of time if you rest your spine that it will start to feel better. Because of this, it's very common that in your younger years you initially injure the spine with sports accidents or improper lifting, or what can even seem like a random incident, like picking up a piece of paper, an empty laundry basket, or tieing your shoes. Your back or neck typically spasms, locks and seizes up, and eventually, when it gets bad enough you can experience pain or numbness and tingling into the limbs. But eventually, after a few days or weeks, it gets better on its own, honest! Unless you just let it get progressively worse by doing nothing for your discs once injured.
Where people go wrong, however, is that they never do anything to correct the problem that caused the disc herniation or disc bulge in the first place. The CAUSE of the problem is not the injury, that's merely the incident. Discs are living tissue and just like anything else in your body they are subjected to wear and tear and injury which requires maintenance for optimal longevity. The incident is merely the final straw in a long process of innocent neglect and decay.
We have three problems as 21st Century humans, we don't move enough, and we live really long, or much longer than even 100 years ago, and our nutrition just gets worse and worse. Because of these changes in lifestyle and longevity we are enduring more disc herniations than ever before. Nutrition and hydration play a factor because they are the vital building blocks for the disc tissue, but the movement of the disc is the biggest factor. Discs are kept hydrated and nourished (essential for any living tissue) through imbibition, which is the pumping action produced by the spine with normal movement in ALL RANGES OF MOTION! However, if you are like most people these days you sit at a desk for 8-10 hours, in between sitting for 2 hours in your car commuting, and then concluding by sitting at home watching TV or just hanging out for 4-6 hours.
"But I'm on my feet all day at work!"
If you do really a repetitive movement, like a cashier, or carpenter, you may be getting some motion, but not necessarily ALL the motion you need to optimize the health of your discs.
"It's just my age"
No, it's not! Please stop buying that lie. Age is just a number, what matters is how you've cared for and maintained your body and spine in your lifetime. What do I mean by this? Research shows most people have at least some mild disc bulging occurring at any given time yet and remain symptom-free. Discitis suffers range from young to old, mild trauma to major trauma, active to inactive, overweight, and underweight. The one underlying commonality I find with all of these disc herniation cases is that they show signs of degenerative decay of the disc and vertebrae that have taken TIME, much longer than they've experienced pain, and that is why we see an increased incidence as we age. This is a big bold statement but I'm honest when I say, I have yet to find anyone who has a symptomatic disc issue and no history of trauma, perfect nutrition, movement, AND alignment.
The 3 Facts about Disc Health are:
Discs are hydrated and nourished with Imbibition so movement is essential to spinal hygiene and health.
Skeletal and Spinal Alignment affects the pressure in the discs and is essential to even and natural wear and tear of not just the discs but all the joints in the body. Whether is chiropractic, physio, massage, yoga, or corrective exercise, pretty much EVERYONE should be working on maintaining their alignment ALL THE TIME. I really can think of no exception to this.
Most people injury their spines a young age, with herniations happening decades later in their 30's to 50's typically. So take even the small tweaks and stiffness's seriously and keep that spine moving properly!!
How can upper cervical adjustments help my low back pain?
I believe being proactive with your nutrition, hydration, core strength and spinal alignment, strength, and stability and all key to being proactive and either avoiding or "managing" a disc injury. This is the essence of how I take care of my acute and chronic disc herniation and bulge cases. This premise is not novel, amongst Chiropractors at least, however many aspects of the care, such as my Corrective Care approach are unique. In fact, I'm the only one of a handful of Chiropractic doctors in the country that I know of that do exactly what I do. I blend NUCCA, an upper cervical system, for improving whole-body alignment and posture via an upper cervical alignment correction (getting your head straight on your neck and spine), as well as the Pierce Results System, for improving neurological function and spinal structural alignment (like curvature and intra-segmental motion(motion of the individual discs)). They may sound vaguely similar, but they are very different, and I find the unique combination of the two is what gets me such great success and results for my practice members.
I'd like to share my spinal hygiene videos for free, here. Many people can benefit from doing these exercises and stretches and I'm always adding more to the list. I find my practice members who do "the homework" on top of getting spinal adjustments and postural corrections get even better results than the adjustments alone. If you're interested in discussing your disc and spinal health more, please schedule a consultation in person or virtually, I'd love to help.