What are Disc Injuries from?
The intervertebral discs are what lay in between each vertebra in your spine. They are made up of an outer fibrous ring called the annulus fibrosus, and an inner gel-like substance in the centre, called the nucleus pulposus. The disc acts like a cushion in between each vertebra, allowing movement and acting as a shock absorber.
A common spinal injury is when these discs become damaged. This damage could be due to many situations. Lifting something too heavy and placing too much pressure on the disc. A trauma to the area. Sometimes it could even be due to basic movements such as twisting or bending. Usually it’s because there was already a weakness in that area that has left it susceptible to damage. Disc injuries can happen anywhere in the spine, but they are more common in the cervical spine (neck) and in the lumbar spine (lower back).
Disc Injury Types
There is more than one type of disc injury, based on the severity of the injury. If you have suffered a disc injury the information below will help you better understand what is going on with your body when your chiropractor or other health professional talks to you about the type of disc injury you may have.
The annulus fibrosis is a ligament and is what attaches the disc to the vertebra. It is made up of cartilaginous fibres. These fibres can become torn due to an injury, or due to the aging process. If the nucleus pulposus pushes out through the tear at all it is called a disc herniation, but without this material pushing out it is called an annular tear. There are different types of tears, that are usually due to different types of injury (e.g. traumatic injury vs the aging process). Annular tears can be extremely painful, as the annulus fibrosis contains many nerve fibres.
the disc can move and slip around causing swelling of the gel-like centre. This then causes the outer fibrous layer to balloon out in the weakest area. This is known as a disc bulge, and doesn’t involve any of the nucleus pulposus passing out of the outer fibrous layer. This is a common injury in the older population as the disc degenerates and becomes weaker. While this can be painful, it is usually a more mild pain than the other types of herniations.
a disc extrusion is when the nucleus pulposus is no longer contained within the outer fibrous layer. Disc extrusions cause a lot of local pain, as well as tingling, numbness, or pain down the extremities, as the disc is putting a lot of pressure on the surrounding nerves.
a sequestered disc is the most serious of the disc injuries. It is when some of the inner nucleus pulposus extrudes out of the outer fibrous layer and separates from the rest of the disc. This free fragment can migrate into the spinal canal. This also causes extreme local pain and pain in the extremities, and in some cases can lead to loss of mobility.
How can chiropractic help with a disc injury?
Areas of the spine can become misaligned and stop moving properly. This lack of motions causes the spinal muscles to become weak and lazy, and they stop supporting the spine correctly. This can leave the spine vulnerable to injury, and make it harder for injuries to heal when they do occur, as there will be too much pressure going through the joint for it to be able to heal properly. Chiropractors are able to help by finding these misaligned segments and adjusting them. This helps to activate those spinal muscles and make them stronger. When they become stronger they are able to properly support the spine and allow for healing to occur.