Traditionally, people have sought care from an osteopath for slipped disks. This very painful problem has often been treated by the medical community with various therapies and medicines, or even surgeries. In order to prevent the possible side-effects and surgical complications, many people have sought chiropractic care as an alternative, non-invasive treatment for slipped disks. Our spine has disks (or discs), which are pads located between our vertebrae that are meant to absorb shocks. They do not really “slip”, but they rupture, move, or split, which might lead the disk cartilage (and tissues nearby) to “herniate (fail), and the inner gel of the disk can leak out. When this happens, nerves and the spinal cord can be put under pressure, and this leads to weakness, pain, or numbing. “Slipped disk is, therefore, a misnomer” and when the disk that is damaged protrudes against nerve tissues, it is really called a “herniated disk, ruptured disk, or prolapsed disk”.1 General “wear and tear” from sitting and squatting can cause herniation. There is a difference between expected, daily wearing on the disks and serious trauma. Lifting can cause trauma, because the pressure on the disk increases greatly. This pressure is worsened by the patient’s use of improper posture and lifting techniques. The stomach side of the disk is affected the most, as it is “compressed when sitting or bending forward”. Genetics may also be involved in who is most at risk for lumbar disk herniation. Other types of herniation include cervical (neck) and, rarely, thoracic.2
Most herniation heals on its own. Typically, doctors will prescribe anti-inflammatory agents or even cortisone injections. Medications, depending on the patient, might come with side effects or be ineffective in relieving pain. Doctors may even recommend physical therapy, weight control, and spinal manipulation. If the herniation does not heal on its own, surgery may be required. Surgery is the “last resort”. Surgical options include dissolving the disk, relieving nerve compression, relieving spinal stenosis, spinal fusion, and disk replacement.3
Chiropractic Care for Slipped Disks
“Spinal manipulation is perfectly safe for a herniated or bulging disk,” according to some recent studies. Chiropractors can provide relief without the side-effects of medications or the risks of surgeries.4 Chiropractors consider the entire spine when evaluating a patient. The “spine functions as a whole”, so while there may seem to be pain in one part of the spine, other parts could also be involved. Therapy will typically include spinal manipulations as well as “therapeutic exercises”.5 Chiropractors also advocate prevention. Patients should exercise regularly, eat a well-balanced diet with all of the proper nutrients, and avoid smoking. In terms of behavioral choices, patients should make sure to use proper posture, and practice proper and safe lifting and twisting techniques. Patients, knowingly or inadvertently, will often compensate for their slipped disk and end up injuring another area of the body, increasing pain and recovery time. During chiropractic care, patients may also receive physical therapy and home exercises. Patients who are compliant and follow their chiropractor’s directions for prevention at home greatly decrease recovery time and the possibility of future injuries to the disks.6
Massage and Yoga for Slipped Disks
Disc herniation might additionally be treated by seeking care from a massage therapist. “Massage is often most effective when combined with other conservative care methods, such as chiropractic or physical therapy”. Massage is definitely not the cure for slipped disks, but its use can help treat any muscular injuries and soft tissue pain that come with slipped disks. It is the natural alternative to pain relieving medications, and it also comes without the side effects. Patients of massage often find the therapy to be relaxing. Oxygen deprivation symptoms are relieved by massage because it increases circulation and oxygenates painful tissues, in addition to aiding the removal of cellular waste products.7 Yoga is best performed after the patient has been cleared to do physical activity. Doing yoga early in the recovery of disc herniation can, in fact, do more harm than good. A modified yoga routine might help relieve lingering discomfort associated with the slipped disk. Any yoga performed with an injury is best done with a coach or teacher who understands the best way to work safely with physical ailments. Bending forward can worsen the condition of the slipped disk, so modifications to the traditional bend is the first step. With the knees bent, the patients should put their hands on their thighs, chest lifted away from the thighs to create a lower back that is extended rather than bent. Patients often step out of downward facing dog by stepping a foot forward and standing, which creates a bend. Instead, they can lower to their knees first, avoiding the bend. In triangle pose, a block under the low-reaching hand keeps the chest elevated away from the waist.8 Both massage and yoga are only supplementary to the chiropractic treatment of herniated discs.