The discs in the spine function as shock absorbers and are held firmly in place by the vertebra above and below them, as well as the ligaments running over them on all sides. They are composed of a fibrous outside (annulus) with a fluid like centre (nucleus pulposus). Due to their firm attachments the discs cannot “slip” out of place. A more accurate description is that the discs “herniate” or “prolapse” and it refers to the movement of the softer centre moving and pressing outwards on the side of the disc. The disc, like everything else in our body, can start to wear with time and is at the risk of damage through repetitive use and trauma.
Naturally our discs loose fluid over time and small cracks can begin to appear in the outer walls of the annulus, increasing their weakness. There are varying levels of severity and direction of disc herniation, each version resulting in its own set of symptoms, relating to the tissues it touches around it. For example; the disc might protrude far enough to compress the nerve as it passes out of the foramina (tunnel) to supply the arms or the legs. This may cause symptoms from nerve root compression such as pain, tingling, numbers and weakness. Whether mild or severe, a protrusion/prolapse can be painful and can make sitting, standing, walking, lifting, moving, urinating, defaecating or sneezing difficult.
The Osteopathic Health Centre approach to disc problems
Having a disc problem, whether it is a protrusion, a prolapse or a minor strain of the annulus, indicates that the disc has sustained some physical damage. Bearing this in mind, disc problems take time to resolve as there is a certain amount of repairing which must take place. Osteopathy can be used to try and speed up this process and to ensure that the spine is in the right condition to allow the healing process to happen.
These days it is well recognised that the best advice is to try and stay as mobile as possible while suffering from a disc problem. However, everybody’s reaction to disc injuries is slightly different and having individually tailored advice from an Osteopath can be invaluable in the early stages.
In the acute phase Osteopathic treatment can ease the protective muscle spasm around a symptomatic disc and improve the mechanical function of the spine. Help and advice on the management is invaluable. Painkillers and anti-inflammatory tablets can be useful. In the long run, understanding how the problem developed in the first place is the key to knowing how to treat the condition and how to prevent it from reoccurring in the future. At the Osteopathic Health Centre, we place great emphasis on educating patients regarding appropriate exercise, how to look after themselves and prevention.