Concordville Chiropractic, Dr. John A. Harris, Concordville, PA


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Herniated Disc / Sciatica

written by, Dr. John A. Harris

     There are 23 discs in the spine, starting between the 2nd and 3rd cervical (neck) vertebrae and ending between the 5th lumbar vertebrae and the sacrum (a pelvic bone). Herniated disc is one of the more serious conditions we chiropractors routinely treat.

     A herniated disc is also known by several other names. Terms such as bulge, prolapsed, protrusion, tear, rupture, and slipped all refer to various degrees of the same thing. However, the term "slipped disc" should not be used as the disc never slips out of place - it is firmly attached to the vertebrae above and below it.

     To understand what happens when a disc herniates it is important to first know a few things about its structure and function.  Discs are small cartilage pads between vertebrae and are structured similar to a jelly donut. There is a tough, fibrous outside ring called the annulus and a soft, gel-like center called the nucleus pulposus. Discs make up approximately 25% of the spine's total length and their function is to act as a connector, spacer, and shock absorber for the spine.  They have a poor blood supply and get their nutrition and expel waste via the pumping action that occurs when the spine is in motion. Therefore, someone with an active lifestyle will have healthier discs than a "Couch Potato." Discs are considered "soft tissue" and do NOT show up on an x-ray. Only an MRI or a CT scan will show the disc. However, there are a number of orthopedic and neurologic tests we can do right in our office that tells us if your pain is due to an injured disc.

     Herniation occurs when the annulus tears or weakens.  This allows fluid in the disc to leak out, often onto the nearby nerve root.  This fluid is highly irritating to the nerve-causing local spinal pain and radiating nerve pain down the arm (cervical radiculitis) or leg (sciatica). This tear or weakness can also allow the gel-like nucleus to bulge out and put pressure on the nerve. Symptoms of a herniated disc include back or neck pain, spinal muscle spasms, a radiating numbness, "tingling," or pain down the arm or leg, muscle weakness in the arm or leg, and a dragging of the foot when walking. (A rare, extreme situation is when someone may actually loose control of their bowel or bladder function.  This is known as cauda equina syndrome and requires immediate surgery - as the disc is actually compressing the spinal cord).

     There are a number of things that can be done to treat a herniated disc. Surgery should always be the last resort (unless cauda equina syndrome) after all other treatments have failed, as there is a high rate of "failed back surgery" with herniated discs. Therapies like ultrasound, shortwave diathermy, and interferential stimulation to decrease painful muscle spasms and increase circulation to flush out the disc fluid on the nerve help considerably. Traction, either manual or mechanical, helps "pull" the bulge back off the nerve. Finally, chiropractic adjustments restore normal motion to the spine and reestablish the pumping action needed to provide nutrition and waste removal to heal the disc. I have saved many patients from having to get spinal surgery using these methods.

     Chiropractic adjustments can also help prevent disc injuries. Periodic, maintenance adjustments keep the spine aligned, allowing proper motion between the vertebrae keeping the discs healthy.

Health and Fitness Articles by John A. Harris, D.C.




Our goal here at Concordville Chiropractic is to provide you with the most modern, natural, and effective chiropractic care available, without the use of drugs or surgery and their accompanying side-effects.


Copyright 2017 Concordville Chiropractic, John A. Harris, D.C.