A disc is a soft tissue structure between each vertebra of the spine acting as a cushion or shock absorber and allows us to have such great movement in the spine. The disc is made of two parts, the outer part is called the annulus and is made up of dense fibrous tissue to form a strong wall around the inner part, the nucleus. The nucleus is a soft, jelly like substance, a bit like the jam inside a doughnut!
There are two main classifications of a disc injury which are a disc bulge (herniation) or a disc prolapse. A disc bulge is when the nucleus presses against the annular wall causing the structure to bulge out to one side or directly backwards. A prolapse is when the nucleus completely protrudes through the annular wall and into the surrounding tissues.
This can happen due to direct trauma or by a chronic weakening of the annular wall in which micro tears begin to form. This allows the nucleus centre to push through causing herniation or prolapse from even the simplest of movements, such as a sneeze!
A disc injury commonly results in pain, muscle tension or spasm around the area. Sometimes the injury will cause nerve root compression as the nerve exits the spine, which may result in radiating pain into the buttocks or lower extremity, pins and needles, numbness or power loss.
These names may differ between healthcare practitioners, for example terms often used to describe the same type of injury are slipped disc, disc protrusion, disc rupture or sequestration. A disc injury can occur anywhere along the spine but are most common in the lower back (lumbar spine) and neck (cervical spine).
How Bridgeham can help?
Our osteopaths are trained to clinically test and differentially diagnose whether your pain is most likely to be from a disc, joint or nerve problem. Should they believe your injury to be caused by a disc bulge or herniation they will then implement a specific treatment program with the aim of stabilising and decompressing the disc. This may involve manual therapy techniques like articulation, muscle stretching, ultrasound therapy and perhaps dry needling or acupuncture in order to reduce pain. You would be given simple Pilates based home exercises to help engage core muscles and decompress the spine to allow the disc to heal.
We also need to establish why the disc got into trouble, so you may also be referred to our Pilates team for some 1:1 sessions in our machine studio to specifically work on the rehabilitation of the disc injury and promote correct movement patterns. You may then be advised to continue your movement rehabilitation in a group class setting to help prevent re-occurrence of the injury.
Full recovery of a disc bulge or herniation depends on the severity of the injury. We would normally expect a disc bulge to be markedly improved within 4-6 weeks and fully resolved within approximately 12 weeks.