There are many different terms that are used to describe a herniated disc such as "slipped disc, pinched nerve, bulging or prolapsed disc and ruptured disc." There is a lot of confusion about these terms and what they mean.
Even among health professionals these terms are often used interchangeably. No wonder patients get confused.
Don’t be too concerned about terminology
Sometimes the term that we use to describe the disc is less important than determining the exact cause of the symptoms. The terms “ruptured, bulging or herniated disc” refer to findings on an MRI. However, these MRI findings do not always correlate with the patient’s degree of pain.
The extent of the disc problem (herniation, bulge or rupture) does not necessarily correspond to the patient’s level of pain. This is often a difficult concept to grasp.
The severity of the patient’s pain does not always correlate to the amount of physical damage to the disc. Less severe back problems may cause more pain than more serious ones.
A patient with a large disc herniation may have no pain at all, however someone suffering from an acute muscle spasm may be in agony. So, try not to focus too much on what to call the disc.
Instead, it is more important to figure out what is actually causing the pain.
Pinched nerve vs. disc pain
When referring to discs, there are two causes of pain:
This occurs when the disc material has leaked out from inside the disc and is pinching or irritating the nearby nerve.
The disc itself is not painful, in this case it is the disc material irritating the nerve that is contributing to the symptoms. This is also referred to as “nerve root pain.” This can occur in the neck, mid back or low back. However, it is most common in the low back.
When the nerve is irritated it can cause us to feel pain in other areas besides the disc area. A pinched/irritated nerve in the low back can cause pain into the legs and/or feet.
A pinched/irritated nerve in the neck can cause pain into the arms and/or hands.
There are other causes of a pinched nerve besides as herniated disc. Some of these other causes are “spinal stenosis” which is a narrowing of the spinal canal and bone spurs which can occur with spinal arthritis.
When a patient has a worn out disc (commonly referred to as degenerative disc disease) it is the disc space itself that is the source of pain. This is often referred to as “axial” or “discogenic” pain.
Get a proper diagnosis from a health professional who specialises in spinal conditions.
Do not try to diagnose yourself.
Diagnosing yourself incorrectly could lead to more damage to spinal structures or more pain in the low back and/or leg if the condition is not properly treated or if it is left untreated.
An early diagnosis can help to ensure that the cause of the problem and source of the pain are identified early and treated appropriately.
A Chiropractor will assess your condition to determine the exact cause of the symptoms and come up with a treatment plan to address the problem.
Chiropractic is a health care profession which is focused on the treatment of conditions related to the nervous and musculoskeletal system.
Many studies have concluded that Chiropractic care is effective for the treatment of lumbar herniated discs and radiculopathy. Early intervention is key.
Often times people avoid early treatment because they believe that the treatment will be too painful, however a skilled practitioner will alter his/her treatment approach to suit the tolerance of the patient.
Dr. Alison Leitch has completed a 4 year Doctor of Chiropractic Degree and an additional 4 year Health Science Degree. She has also completed in the Medical Acupuncture Health Sciences program from McMaster University in Canada, and is skilled in a variety to soft tissue techniques to address problems related to muscles, ligaments, nerves and fascia. Dr. Alison’s area of focus is conditions related to the joints, spine, pelvis, nerves and muscles such as back and neck pain, headaches and arthritis. Dr. Alison Leitch practices in Noosa on the Sunshine Coast.