Although a commonly used term, ‘slipped disc’ is actually somewhat confusing and misrepresentative of what happens when a spinal disc is damaged or irritated. What is generally referred to as a ‘slipped disc’ is more accurately described as a prolapsed or herniated disc.
Discs are not solid cartilaginous discs as people often think and can’t simply ‘slip’ in and out. The discs of the spine are comprised of a watery gel-like centre surrounded by a tough, fibrous outer layer (a bit like a very tough jam doughnut!).
The tough fibrous part of the disc is attached top and bottom to the adjacent vertebra (spinal bone) and consequently is unable to move. Therefore when a disc is said to have ‘slipped’ this refers to the squeezing out (herniation) of the gel-like substance through the outer fibres of the disc and not a ‘slip’ of the whole disc itself.
A lot of the time however, what may feel like a ‘slipped disc’ turns out to be simply an irritation to one of the small joints of the spine (known as Facet Joints). Although a relatively ‘minor’ injury in terms of damage, facet joint problems can cause intense pain and spasm in the the back.
When compressive and rotational forces are applied to the spine (e.g. when heavy lifting) damage may be suffered to the tough, fibrous, outer coating of the disc. As a result of this the gel-like inner substance can start to seep towards the edge of the outer coating, or, in more serious cases can squeeze itself out of the disc (like the jam coming out of the doughnut) causing acute inflammation and irritation to the area.
Once the gel-like centre has squeezed out of the disc there is no way back in for it (you can’t put the jam back in the doughnut!) and it therefore sits in the spinal canal causing inflammation and irritation to the surrounding tissues and nerves until the body is able to break it down and resolve the problem.
Osteopaths can apply gentle traction and decompression to the affected area, improving blood flow and reducing the inflammation. They may also employ gentle massage and mobilisation techniques, reducing muscle spasm and improving the range of movement of the affected area, thereby facilitating the body’s own healing and resolution of the problem.
Osteopaths will also advise on exercises to facilitate the healing process and reduce the likelihood of the incident re-occuring.
Our clinic provides osteopathy for areas including March, Ely, Wisbech, Huntingdon, St Ives & Whittlesey and beyond.
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