Can Chiropractic Help a Herniated Disc?
“Why does a herniated disc happen?”
When it comes to dealing with a herniated disc in your neck or back, it is important not to confuse CAUSE and EFFECT.
What caused the herniated disc in the first place?
A herniated disc can cause all types of different symptoms in the body:
A herniated disc in the neck can cause nerve pain into the arms or hands, including muscle weakness or “numbness and tingling,” neck pain, headaches or even migraines.
- A herniated disc in the low back can cause chronic low back pain, sciatic, or other forms of nerve pain (aka radiculopathy and neuropathy) into the legs and feet.
- A herniated disc anywhere in the spine can also cause local pain, pain that intensifies when sneezing, coughing or straining (called a Valsalva’s manoeuvre), which indicates that something is compressing or occupying space upon your central nervous system that should not be there.
So the herniated disc can potentially cause any fo these symptoms or more.
Nevertheless, the original questions remain, “What caused the herniated disc in the first place?”
Intervertebral discs between the bones in your spine are composed primarily of water, cartilage and dense protein matrices. But they are not like soft, fluffy pillows or water balloons. Their consistency is not unlike the tyre on a car!
In other words, discs are STRONG! And they do not just spontaneously bulge!
The expression of “slipping a disc” is a great misnomer. In order to slip or rupture a disc in a single injury, you would typically need the amount of force involved in a head-on accident with a truck.
So when it comes to a herniated disc, we usually aren’t talking about a single injury - like bending forwards and twisting - that caused the original injury.
We are usually talking about a process that has been going on for a long while and that simply comes to a head - “the straw that breaks the camel’s back" - that causes that herniated disc to become painfully acute.
So what can cause a herniated disc to bulge over a long period of time?
To answer this question, we need to take a look at a potential place coming, ironically, from the one place in your spine where it is impossible to have a herniated disc: your upper neck.
“What does the upper neck have to do with a herniated disc?”
The top two vertebrae in your neck are called the C1 (atlas) and C2 (axis). Combined, they provide for around 50% of all your head and neck movements. Moreover, your C1 and C2 protect your brainstem, which is the master control centre for your brain and body
They are without questions the most flexible bones in the spine. However, they are also the most susceptible to injury.
One of the purposes of an intervertebral disc is to provide support and protection for the vertebra above and below. However, because C1 and C2 are designed uniquely, they have no intervertebral discs around them!
The C1 vertebrae especially is suspended by muscles and ligaments. However, if these muscles or ligaments are ever injured, they can affect the normal position and range of movement of the vertebra.
When this happens, it can cause a cascade of events that may produce physical tension on your brainstem - not a good thing! - and also interfere with the normal transmission of neurological information between the brain and body … also not a good thing!
All it takes is a few millimetres of pressure to disrupt normal nerve function because they are so sensitive!
To illustrate, have you ever had a splinter in your finger? Imagine the same thing, but in your brainstem: something extremely small, but agitating enough that it disrupts your ability to do your normal activities without there being some type of pain or other symptoms.
As fragile as your upper neck is, your body has a built-in protective mechanism called the “head righting reflex.”
In brief, in order to minimise the physical tension and disruption to normal brain activity, your brain reflexively works to maintain your eyes relative to the horizon. In order to do this, it recruits accessory and primary muscles down the length of your entire spine in order to compensate.
Essentially, this compensation causes a SHIFT IN YOUR STANDING POSTURE:
- One-shoulder drops lower than the other
- One hip drops lower than the other
- Your neck and torso lean in opposing directions
- Your weight goes heavy on one hip
These compensations stay in place until the primary injury at the upper neck is resolved.
However, so many people walk around in life completely unaware of the original injury, whether or not it was causing them pain. As a result, these compensations NEVER go away.
Let’s go back to the idea of tyres and relate this to your herniated disc. If you drove like a lunatic, causing your tyres to wear abnormally, eventually that excess mechanical damage will cause the tyres to tear.
Similarly, long-term (years or decades) worth of accumulative, abnormal mechanical damage to the discs in your spine may cause them to bulge, herniate and developed degenerative arthritis (aka spondylosis).
Now, this type of problem can come from potentially anywhere in your body. However, because your upper neck is particularly susceptible to injury - including if you don’t even have pain there - it may be entirely plausible for your herniated disc and the resulting symptoms you experience to have been caused by an unresolved problem in your upper neck.
“What can I do about the herniated disc?”
There is no shortage of medical and healthcare interventions that can help people with a herniated disc in the neck or back.
Surgery is usually regarded as the last option, and only under certain circumstances as the best surgeons often agree!
More conservative options may include traction, general chiropractic, physiotherapy or pain management strategies including injections or medications.
You may have tried a number of these therapies already with certain degrees of success. Hopefully 100%. However, if you still experience issues believed to be due to the herniated disc, it is possible that the true underlying cause of the herniated disc and the symptoms you experience is something else!
And that something else could well be an unaddressed, unresolved and persistent problem with the alignment and movement of your upper neck in a way that is affecting your nervous system and the function of your spine and brain.
If so, here is where a unique approach to healthcare called Blair upper cervical care may be able to help you.
Blair upper cervical care is a special division of chiropractic that was developed in the USA. The procedure is designed to focus on the alignment of the joints in your upper neck - with special emphasis on the atlas (C1) and axis (C2) - because of their impact on the brain and nervous system.
Rather than using twisting, cracking or spinal manipulation, the Blair technique does not “crack” the spine. Instead, a Blair upper cervical doctor of chiropractic completes advanced training in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions of the upper neck.
The process begins with a history and detailed examination where we look to see how your body is compensating to stress using physical posture pattern distortions as the basis.
THE MORE COMPLICATED THE DISTORTION, USUALLY THE MORE COMPLICATED THE CONDITION.
… And when it comes to disc herniation, we often find that people are in a jam or complex-jam type of pattern, which signifies multiple previous layers of unresolved injuries.
We also perform a series of neurological tests in order to verify the far-reaching effects of this problem on your body.
If we identify that there is a problem with the alignment or motion in your upper neck, what we do next are a series of customised x-rays where we look at the 3D alignment.
In this way, we are able to determine the exact direction and degree of misalignment in your neck, and thereby create a care recommendation this is truly customised for your individual needs.
“Where can I find an upper cervical doctor to help a herniated disc?”
Most people would prefer NOT to have herniated disc surgery if it is possible.
Most people would also prefer NOT to take medication if there is a natural solution that can help.
So that I am clear, upper cervical care is not a treatment for a herniated disc.
The purpose of upper cervical care is to restore normal alignment and motion in your upper neck so that your own body will be better able to repair itself.
Because it is an indirect approach, we never make claims to “cure” or even to “fix” herniated discs.
Certainly, we have been able to help a number of people diagnosed with a herniated disc experience relief simply by adjusting their upper neck, and them allowing their bodies to heal themselves. Still, it’s never been 100%.
It is why the one guarantee that we make people is that if we believe that we can help, we will do our best.
So, if you have been diagnosed or suspect that you may have a herniated disc and are looking for help - AND if the information in this article makes sense and resonates with you - we would like to invite you to take the next step.
Atlas Health Australia is the premier upper cervical health centre in Brisbane, serving the north Brisbane communities of North Lakes, Narangba, Dakabin, Mango Hill, Burpengary and North Harbour.
Our practice is located alongside the Bruce Highway for easy access for people travelling from the Brisbane suburbs of Albany Creek, Bulimba, Cashmere, Chandler, Hawthorne, Indooroopilly, New Farm, Kalinga, Newstead, Scarborough, Shorncliffe, Spring Hill, Toowong, Warner, West End also from the Gold Coast Sunshine Coast.
Because we are the ONLY upper cervical specific centre in Brisbane, it is not uncommon for many of our local clients to travel 60-90 minutes, with many people also travelling interstate for intensive care.
Wherever you are, we would like to invite you to have a conversation to see if we may be able to help you. Our principal chiropractic doctor, Dr Jeffrey Hannah, offers a 15-minute over the phone consultation to discuss your individual case, answer any questions you may have, and to describe the general process so that you can decide if care might be right for you.
To schedule a consultation to find out more information and if care may be able to help you if you are experiencing a herniated disc, click the Contact Us link at the top of this page, or contact our office directly at 07 3188 9329.
We would be honoured to assist in any way that we can.
Atlas Health Australia - “A passion and purpose for helping people live their lives again.”
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