In both our locations in Stirling and Falkirk, slipped discs are often the concern of our patients coming in with low back pain. They have the reputation for slipping out all over the place and causing all sorts of bother and people often worry that theirs are misbehaving.
We thought we’d tell you a bit more about these bits of your back, and how we can tell if they’re giving you trouble.
First things first did you know that discs don’t actually slip? They are very firmly attached to their neighbouring vertebrae above and below. They allow movement throughout the spine and absorb some of the shock going through the spine. They are not slippy and don’t scoot off all over the place or slip out of position.
They can however, bulge or herniate. Ouch! Sounds painful and certainly can be. The outer covering of the disc is pretty tough and fibrous while the inner portion is squidgy like toothpaste. Sometimes that squidgy bit can bulge through the tough bit causing a lumpy bit of disc to appear and press out onto neighbouring structures like nerves. This is usually when the pain comes in and often pain from disc injuries shows up as nervy pain going down an arm or leg.
Here’s an interesting fact though, about 25% of disc bulges found by chance on MRI don’t come with any symptoms. So even when there is a disc bulge happening in your back it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to hurt. As always, sometimes the body just handles it.
Discs can also sprain, a little like a ligament can sprain. We’re talking about those outer fibres here and often a harsh twisting motion, perhaps while standing up or carrying something heavy, is the culprit. This is all to do with the angle of these fibres and is a full-on anatomy lesson for another time!
So how can we tell if a disc bulge is causing you trouble? There are clues that help us narrow down our diagnosis including;
- Pain that is much worse with sitting and/or bearing down/coughing/sneezing.
- Radiating nervy pain down a limb. This can be pain, pins and needles or numbness.
- Pain that came on suddenly with a heavy lift or twist although sometimes it’s a more drawn out affair like sitting for long periods at a time.
- Pain that is worse first thing although the pain from an acute disc issue is pretty unrelenting.
- Antalgic posture- a fancy term for when you’re standing with your back like a question mark to avoid pain.
- Antalgic gait – when you are walking in a certain way to avoid pain. Feet wide apart, knees slightly bent and bum sticking out seems to be how the body wants you to walk with a disc bulge!
If nerves have been compressed for a while there can be some power loss in the muscles too. This is why we occasionally tap you with those little hammers and ask you to push and shove your limbs in all sorts of directions. We’re figuring out if the nerve messages are getting through to their muscles.
There are other causes of all of the above of course but with some questioning and examination we can usually piece together what is likely going on with your back and why you’re in pain.
Can osteopathy help? Ok, so we can’t pop discs back in as the phrase goes. Often discs need some time to reabsorb and heal but what we can do is support the body through that. Acute disc injuries generally don’t like getting flung about and neither do the people suffering them, so gently does it is the order of the day.
We can help move along some inflammation, ease off some muscles spasms and keep the vertebral joints gently moving. Sometimes the specific joint in question is a bit too tender for direct work at first so we can make sure above and below keeps operating well as they take the extra load for a while. We firmly believe that safely supporting the body through any injury can only help it to heal and recover quickly.
If you are suffering low back pain just now and would like to speak to an expert or get booked in for an appointment then you can give us a call on 01324 670 670 or visit our website at www.back2lifeclinic.co.uk.