What is a Herniated or “Slipped” Disc?
Today we are going to talk about an area that’s near and dear to my heart, which is the spinal discs. Have you ever had a herniated or slipped disc? Have you known someone who has said they have a herniated or slipped disc? The spinal discs are often a very misunderstood area, and I hope I can give you some clarity. We can get rid of some of these myths and beliefs that are out there and get on the right path.
Before we go into those details, I want to tell you about the issue that my wife, Shauna, has had with her back. Back in her high school days, she was a very avid softball player. Then, when she finished high school, she continued playing softball with some recreational leagues. She was very competitive, and her nickname was Ruth after Babe Ruth. However, all this caused her to do a lot of bending and twisting, and her back pain had been on and off for several years.
Waking Up With Intense Pain
One day, she woke up and she had this intense pain in the middle of her back. It was radiating down her leg into her big toe. She couldn’t stand up straight and she was bent over because of the pain. If I’m remembering correctly, she was a little bit over a 30 at the time. For most of us, it seems like that is too young to be having back problems. She was supposed to start a new job and she couldn’t even work.
She was in this very intense pain that she couldn’t get out of.
Any position she tried to get herself in, she could not get rid of that pain. She couldn’t walk without a walker for several days. We immediately got her to the doctor, and they ordered x-rays and they did an MRI. When I looked at her MRI with her doctor, I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. Her disc space was completely gone in multiple levels and then she had a couple of very large bulges or herniated discs that were pinching a nerve. The doctors ended up telling her that she was a nonsurgical case.
So, she was very scared because she’s only 30 and she doesn’t know what she is going to be able to do. Is she going to be able to work? Is she ever going to be able to stand up straight? We went to several doctors and she did have some injections and some things that helped with that initial pain. Then, we realized that her muscles were in such an intense spasm, and we had to work hard to get them to settle down. Even though the injections took away some of that leg pain, she still had that intense central back pain into the buttock.
Pain in the Buttock
If you’ve ever experienced that pain in the buttock, it is just brutal. Then, we realized her muscular system was extremely imbalanced. We worked hard at getting her hypertonic muscles, which are the muscles that are contracted in a spasm, to shut off. We had her on the right direction with alleviating the weaknesses in her body. Now, even though she sometimes still feels this pain if she over does it, we now know how to fix it. Since then, she hasn’t had to have any other further injections or intervention, other than occasionally getting back on track with her exercise programs.
She is living proof that you can fix these things and that you don’t have to go the route of surgery. The main point I wanted to prove was that these discs can extremely affect your life. They can really cause a lot of problems for you when things start going bad.
Technically, these discs do not slip out of place. A slipped disc is a misleading term because they don’t come out.
They don’t slip; they either bolt or herniate. Your back is comprised of individual vertebrae. Each of these individual bones make a segment and the lower back, which is called the lumbar, has five vertebrae. Then, in between these, there are little cushions, which are the discs. These discs are held in place by thick ligaments. Your spine literally is like a stack of cans.
Think of a Jelly Doughnut or an Oreo Cookie
Between each one of those cans is a doughnut or an Oreo cookie. Now, the discs are made of a material called fibro cartilage, which is a spongy type of cartilage. This is designed to help maintain the space and they’re designed to absorb shock. The outer edge of the disc makes a ring that holds in the center. This center is soft, like a doughnut or Oreo cookie. Now, with time, because of stress, wear, and tear on the edges of the cookie or the edges of the donut, they start to wear out.
The edges of the disc start to weaken, which causes the material inside to push out because of the stress and it will start to bulge. When there is a bulge, this is a disc herniation. It starts out smaller, but it gets bigger and bigger like a balloon. They can even herniate to the point to where it pinches the nerve. When it does that, it is extremely painful. This can happen over a series of years, but when it starts to pinch the nerve, that’s when things go south.
You can’t push the disc back into place.
It doesn’t work like that. To fix the disc, this requires you to reduce the compressive forces that are causing it to herniate, and there are many different exercises you can do to decompress to heal the discs. For my wife, Shauna, we were able to decompress her spine by getting those muscles to balance out. Her disc was able to heal, and now her pain doesn’t go down to her leg and there is no more pinching of the nerve.
Although we can’t reverse the degeneration that occurred, we can keep it from being a problem for her. So, the real question is not “what to do when a disc herniates?” The real question is, “why does it herniate in the first place?” Your discs didn’t decide one day to weaken; this was a process that had taken years. There are forces in your back that are extremely destructive to your spine.
What Causes Herniated Discs?
Trauma, genetics, and compression all play a role in the wearing out of the discs. The real cause of a herniated disc is not those things; it’s what causes those things. As far as trauma and genetics; these are things that we can’t change. However, for the compressive forces to the spine, we can change that. We can manipulate and reduce, which then takes the pain away. So, the real cause of this herniated disc and the compression are the imbalances in your body that have been created by too much sitting, repetitive movements, past injuries, and past trauma.
Many times, people tend to heal it with compensations that end up using too much of the wrong muscle group and not enough of the right muscle group, which increases compression in the spine. These imbalances result in your muscles becoming very tight. This tight muscle is not just something you can stretch out. We call these hypertonic muscles. These muscles become hypertonic and then it becomes weak, which results in throwing everything off balance causing compression on the discs.
The RESULT, Increased Pain, Irritation, and Inflammation
This results in increased pain, irritation, and inflammation as the nerve starts to get pinched from that herniated disc. You can just deal with the disc, but you still have a problem because all these other issues that led up to this are still present and the problem will return. One of the main areas for imbalances with disc related problems are going to be hypertonic or tight hip flexors. These are the muscles that attach to your front of your femur. Another main area is having very weak glutes and weak lower abdominals.
All these areas are designed to complement each other and work together. The human body was designed in the image of God and it is designed to work as a machine. This means that all your systems and muscles are designed to complement each other and work together. Therefore, when one area loses movement or flexibility, such as your hips, there’s going to be increased compression to the spine.
Think of This Like a Big Slinky
When a slinky goes down the steps, each of the coils must band with the next one. That is what happens with your spine. All these little segments work together like a slinky. The movement of bending over and touching your toes or putting your socks and shoes on occurs at the hips. If your hips don’t move because they’ve gotten too stiff because your hip flexors are too hypertonic, which causes you to not be able to put your shoes on, you still must put your socks and shoes on.
You still need to bend forward, and when you do that, instead of the movement occurring from the hips, all that extra movement occurs at the slinky at the spine. This will eventually wear out your spine and compress it. If your glute muscles are too weak, they’re shut down and they can’t balance out the hip flexors. When your hip flexors become hypertonic, your glute muscles become very weak. It causes your pelvis to tip forward, which is called an anterior pelvic tilt. When it tips forward, it compresses the spine because of its pull on it.
If you have an anterior pelvic tilt, it compresses the spine and the result of this is damaged discs. Now, think of your back like a seesaw. You want the seesaw to be balanced out perfectly. You’ve got muscles in the front, muscles in the back, and hip joints, and all these things affect your spine. You must be balanced out for everything to work together.
You can decompress this disc with traction by laying somebody down and stretching them out. However, the minute you take the traction off, it’s going to go right back to compression. You can even surgically trim that out, which is called a microdiscectomy. You can go in and you can remove pieces of bone, which is called a laminectomy. At the end of the day though, you will still have problems because imbalances are still present. The things that cause the disc to herniate in the first place haven’t been fixed. Until you address the root cause, all you’re doing is dealing with the what’s generating the pain and not what’s generating the cause.
The way our medical system is treating this problem is not right.
They’ll order the MRI and they look at the spine and they said, “You got a bad disc. That’s your problem. Let’s treat that.” They will throw a bunch of anti-inflammatories at you and various muscle relaxers, but that doesn’t address the root cause. It just puts a band aid on it, and it kicks the can down the road.
Our medical system just wants to go to the disc, inject it, and remove it. Then, they’re going to tell you that your back is all fixed. Although they immediately removed the immediate pain and you will feel better for 6 months to a year, that pain will come back because the problem that caused it in the first place is not fixed. You have discs above and below that will start to go bad too. Therefore, you are not fixed until you deal with these imbalances. Until you do that, you will continue to have problems.
Finally, I want to leave you with a quote from Catherine Pulsifer, who is an author. She said,
“Too much of one thing can end up creating stress.”
This is something that no one needs in their life, but living a life in balance can provide harmony and peace. If you take anything home from this, remember to keep your body and your life in balance.
If you would like to know more, I have a new eBook out called “The Five Best Kept Secrets to Fast Back Pain Relief.” You can get a copy for FREE, just send us a Facebook message or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to schedule an appointment with us you can do so here.
Until next time, power your life and keep moving forward.