You have probably heard of people slipping a disc, right? But what is a slipped disc? Though there are many reasons for a person to experience back pain including muscular spasms, a slipped disc occurs when the spongy material between your spinal joints pokes out and touches a nerve. Quite often, this causes no symptoms, and when it does produce pain, it goes away on its own as your body resolves the problem itself. In rare cases, slipped discs produce chronic problems that require medical and nutritional care. If you think that you probably have slipped a disc, the advice is get it diagnosed early.
Symptoms Of Slipped Disc
Symptoms of a slipped disc vary from case to case. In fact, appear symptoms depend on which disc herniates and how extreme the herniation is. While herniations in the lower lumbar spine often cause lower back pain, studies on healthy volunteers discovered that nearly 50% had undiagnosed slipped discs in their necks that produced no symptoms.
When symptoms do occur, some are more likely than others. Numbness, shooting pain from the back down to the legs, aching pain in the lower back, tingling in one or both legs, muscular weakness, poor coordination, as well as generalized aching in the thighs and hips may be some of the more common symptoms. In severe cases, a serious problem known as Cauda Equina (Latin: Horse’s Tail) may manifest.
When a slipped disc is so severe that it cuts off the nerve messages in the lower lumbar spine almost entirely, it produces Cauda Equina Syndrome. Symptoms of Cauda Equina Syndrome include poor bladder and bowel function, pain, numbness or weakness in one or both legs, an altered or loss of sensation in the inner thighs and buttocks (the saddle area). Seek medical help if these symptoms begin. Cauda Equina Syndrome is a medical emergency and requires urgent attention. If not treated soon, it may lead to permanent spinal damage.
Common Causes Of Slipped Disc
In healthy individuals, the vertebrae discs, which are the shock absorbers for the spine, are encased by a firm membrane and unable to escape or protrude outward. Increased pressure on one side of the discs, such as from squatting or leaning forward will weaken the membrane.
Poor posture, constant sitting down, obesity, pregnancy and heavy lifting all put extra pressure on the stomach-side of the discs (from leaning forward or bending) resulting in a loss of integrity of the membrane. Eventually, the membrane ruptures and the inner disc which is soft like jelly, herniates outwards. If the disc touches or puts pressure on the spinal nerve, it results in pain.
There is a tendency to think of slipped discs as a problem, like arthritis and rheumatism that goes with old age. In fact, slipped discs occur most often during the ages of 35 to 50. It is at this stage where this is a chance that some degradation has occurred, but the soft inner disc has not hardened yet with middle age. Once this hardening takes place, it becomes very difficult for discs to herniate at all anymore.
Conventional Treatments For Slipped Disc
Most of the time, doctors do not really have to do anything. Basically, it is just a waiting game for the protruding part of the disc to be ‘eaten’ up by the immune system, which will recognize it as something strange and foreign. Healing can take several weeks though and the patient may have to take time off work as well as other physical activities.
Doctors may prescribe pain-killing and anti-inflammatory medication or injections to help with managing the painful symptoms. These drugs do a good job at helping to reduce pain and inflammation, but come with their own side effects. When taking strong medications to control pain, talk with your doctor about the safety of your prescription if you are going to be using it for weeks or even months.
In severe cases, medical intervention may be required. In less than 10% of patients with symptomatic slipped discs, doctors will operate on a slipped disc to relieve the pressure it is putting on the nerves. Surgery isn’t without its own risks. Scar tissue from the surgery can create further problems down the road. But in these cases, if the doctors do not operate, then there is a risk of permanent damage to the affected nerves. But surgery is always a last resort. Doctors will try every other possible avenue before finally relenting to performing surgery on the herniation.
Natural Remedies For Slipped Disc
While there is a few natural and alternative medicine which can do to repair a slipped disc, there is evidence that some nutritional treatments may help to either prevent slipped discs from occurring or even helps in managing the symptoms.
Glucosamine and chondroitin are two common supplements taken by people with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Now researchers are saying that they may also be useful in cases of spinal disc degeneration and slipped discs. The Netherlands Cancer Institute ran a study in 2003 on patients with spinal disc degeneration.
After 2 years of supplementation with both glucosamine and chondroitin, participants experienced a significant reversal of disc degeneration symptoms. As well as being an effective prevention and treatment for various types of arthritis, these nutraceutical supplements may also help to prevent slipped discs caused by disc degeneration. For individuals with a family history of spinal disc problems, this proves to be useful knowledge.
Quite often, glucosamine and chondroitin supplements are combined with fish oil for anti-inflammatory benefits. In 2006, the University of Pittsburgh in the USA funded a study into 125 patients with disc-related back pain. These patients were also talking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) during the period of the study. Over the course of 75 days, the participants took between 1,200 and 2,400mg of fish oil daily.
Once the trial was over, researchers concluded that 60% of participants had improved joint pain, 80% were satisfied with their improved symptoms, and 59% of participants were able to discontinue their NSAIDs. There were no reports of side effects. As NSAIDs are connected with a wide range of harmful side effects, anything that might be able to replace the use of them is of great interest to both doctors and patients.
In some severe cases, when people do not seek help in time, the protrusion of the disc will led to nerve damages such as Cauda Equina Syndrome. Though the nerve tissues will regenerate and recover, they are notoriously slow at doing so. Damaged nerves, resulting in nerve pain, tingling and numbness can take years to recover. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, good nutrition, exercise and natural supplements will all play their part in how far and how fast each individual heals.
While doctors may inject steroid drugs in severe cases of slipped discs, some mineral and herbal injections may offer a more natural alternative. In 2009, a Chinese study found that an injection with magnesium and Dan Shen extract was active in reducing inflammatory responses following disc herniation in rabbits. Other studies have also confirmed that magnesium oral supplements may offer effective pain relief in cases of neuropathy and muscular tension.
For supporting damaged nerve fibers, there are various natural remedies that have been researched for supporting and speeding nerve growth. Alpha-lipoic acid and Lion’s Mane mushroom have both been clinically researched to speed nerve regeneration and reduce neuropathy symptoms. Vitamins B12, folic acid and Enzogenol extract may also be useful in these circumstances.
Once you understand have gain an understanding on what is a slipped disc and what causes it, you can begin to treat it appropriately. As said above, slipped discs resolve on themselves most of the time. Though it takes a few weeks for the immune system to eat away at the protruding disc material, it does a good job in most cases. When slipped discs have occurred because of more widespread disc degeneration, it is possible that herniated discs may continue to occur more frequently in the future.
In an article on The Daily Mail website on March 11, 2013, reporter Carol Davis interviews Karl Horsburgh who had to have a spinal injection of steroids every few months in order to compete as a martial artist. Widespread disc degeneration leads to one slipped disc after another, giving him “excruciating” pain.
The only way for him to go on with his training, without having back surgery is to have the injections. While this sort of treatment is an option, it is not ideal if it can be avoided. Changes in lifestyle, glucosamine supplements, physical therapy and nutrition can go a long way to help preventing future disc problems. People with a family history of disc degeneration will have to be extra careful and should practice prevention rather than cure.