A lady I met a few days ago said,
“I’ve got a slipped disc, and no massage is going to fix that.”
When people pick up their MRI scan results, they don’t get a full explanation of what living with a disc herniation actually entails – and as much as an Osteopath’s job is about treatment, it’s also about education. So I’ve written this blog to bust some myths!
Here are the things you might not have known about ‘slipped discs’ –
Not all slipped discs are created equal
Commonly referred to as slipped discs, intervertebral disc injuries come in all shapes and sizes. The disc is structured a little bit like a jam donut, with a tougher outer crust and a runny middle.
You can injure the outer section, called the annulus fibrosis, without actually leaking any of the jammy middle out – this is called a bulging disc. It may present with all the pain and symptoms of a full disc herniation, but tends to resolve fairly easily.
If some of the runny middle does leak out of an injured disc, it is called a disc herniation or prolapse. These can vary in severity, and can cause massive amounts of inflammation and swelling. If the swelling occurs to a large enough degree, it can squeeze a near-by nerve root. This is a common cause for sciatica, but that’s a whole blog post by itself!
Slipped discs haven’t ‘gone out of place’
We get a lot of patients in the clinic who would like their disc ‘cracked back in’. As much as I would love to be able to do this for them, it simply can’t be done. There’s a lot of myths around spinal alignment, but the reality is that your discs are like toothpaste; once their out of the tube, there’s no putting them back in. A certain percentage of mildly prolapsed discs will spontaneously correct over time – but in patients with mild prolapse, the severity of pain is not always directly correlated to the severity of the herniation. A better gauge is the amount of inflammation and swelling that occurs in the surrounding tissues.
Disc herniation is a long term treatment project
The best way to recover when you herniate a disc in your lumbar spine is with gentle hands-on manual therapy, like osteopathy. Then you can progress to rehabilitative exercises, which your osteopath can design for you specifically. Booking in with an Osteopath can take you right from the onset of pain, to managing your pain properly, all the way back to full function and living pain free. With all mechanical back pain, it is important to address exercise and lifestyle factors that might be contributing to your symptoms – all of which an Osteopath can help with. Long story short, it’s not just a back massage. It’s a comprehensive assessment, treatment plan, and prevention for future painful episodes.
Movement is the key!
The final step in rehabilitation after a disc prolapse is to get yourself back to your normal patterns of movement – or even better, more correct patterns of movement. This is where patients must keep up their rehab exercises, or take up a new hobby to help them move better – such as pilates. Your osteopath can offer ongoing support and guidance as you get back to doing the things you love – gym, running, playing with the kids – and show you ways to refine your technique to avoid injury.