Intervertebral discs are the soft, spongy cushions between the vertebrae in your spine. They act as both a “spacer” so the nerves have room to exit between each vertebrae in your spine, and as a shock absorber. The outer layer is made of tough and strong cartilage but the inside is a soft, gel-like material, much like a jelly donut. These discs contain a lot of water but they tend to dehydrate throughout the day, if we sustain an injury, and as we age.
What is the difference between a disc bulge and a disc herniation?
A bulging disc occurs when you push down on top that jelly donut and the sides begin to bulge out. It can affect the entire disc or just a portion of the disc. Many patients have bulges and don’t even realize it. The problem with a minor disc bulge is that they can quickly turn into a rupture unless they are addressed.
A herniated or ruptured disc is like smashing the donut and the inside jelly begins to oozes or squirt out. If the gel in the inside of the disc squirts out into the canal it can either compress the nerve root or the spinal canal. The most common location for these injuries are in the neck and lower back. Symptoms could include pain, numbness, tingling, weakness, and incoordination in either your arms or legs.
Bulging Discs or Herniated Discs Don’t Just “Happen”
Have you ever heard of someone who got a disc bulge or herniation just by coughing, sneezing, bending or twisting? Ironically, these minor incidents can cause major damage to a spinal disc if, and only if, that disc is vulnerable or susceptible to begin with. Healthy discs DO NOT bulge, rupture or herniate from routine, daily activities.
We have had thousands of patients that were doing one of their daily routines (i.e. putting on their shoes, bending over brushing their teeth, washing dishes, or working out at the gym) that suddenly “slip” or “blow” a disc. Why? They are often doing the exact same movement that they do every single day of their lives and now…wham!
We typically see disc bulges, herniations, or even degeneration at only a few levels in the spine while the remaining 20 or so discs and vertebrae are completely healthy. If it were age or genetics, wouldn’t you see this type of degeneration throughout the entire spine and not just 1 or 2 discs? Absolutely!! If a disc injury does occur, it’s a big “Red Flag” indicating that there was a weakness, susceptibility, or vulnerability prior to the injury.
When you experience low back pain, bulging disc, or even herniation you must ask yourself why did the area/disc fail while the others did not? Age, poor diet, and lack of exercise can certainly contribute to degeneration of the spine but consider this: Aren’t all of your discs the same age, and exposed to the same diet and exercise? What is it really comes down to is the increased stress that may occur at one level of the spine as opposed to another. And, barring direct injury, this often comes down to a biomechanical imbalance of the spine.
The Importance of Overall Spinal Balance
The spine consists of the three distinct regions with three opposing curves that counterbalance each other to keep your head level and properly positioned over your pelvis. The discs act as shock absorbers or cushions and as a spacer between the vertebrae so the nerves can exit without being pinched.
The upper cervical spine (or neck) has a c-shaped curve, the thoracic spine (mid back) has the opposite curve, and the lumbar spine (low back) has another c-shaped curve. A healthy spine has all of these curves which not only keep your head properly balanced, but also distributes the stress and strain equally throughout your spine.
Unfortunately, injuries, accidents or repetitive strains can contribute to the loss of these vital curves. However, the most commonly overlooked problem is a misalignment within the upper spine or neck. We are all connected from head to toe. If you have a misalignment in the upper neck, what does the rest of your spine and skeleton have to do? It has to compensate!
These misalignments trigger a chain reaction which can cause you to lose the normal cervical curve, your head then shifts off-center, one shoulder may be higher than the other and your pelvis and hips are off balance, which in turn, pulls one leg up shorter than the other. The same move you make every single day, now causes your disc to slip, bulge, herniate or rupture. It was a ticking time bomb waiting to happen!
Upper Cervical Care for Bulging and Herniated Discs
Upper Cervical doctors look at this as a “cause” and “effect” relationship. There are some cases that require physical therapy, spinal injections, or even surgery. However, depending upon the severity of the injury, the body can often heal these discs once balance to the spine and neck is restored through chiropractic care. Over time, they may even become stronger and more stable than they have been in years.
Upper Cervical Chiropractors are able to address spinal balance issues by focusing on the area of the spine where the imbalance begins. The smallest top two bones of the spine have the most unique shape and are most freely moveable. Thus they are the most easily misaligned by injury, bad posture, or repetitive stress.
Called atlas and axis (or C1 /C2), they also protect the vital area where the lower brain stem meets the spinal cord. Think of this are as the “fuse box” of your electrical system. All of your automatic” vital functions like heart rate and respiration are handled here. The body will compensate to protect this area.
Upper Cervical Care of Glen Carbon: Schedule a Free Consultation
At Upper Cervical Care of Glen Carbon, our doctors have extensive training and education in the upper cervical spine. The goal of upper cervical spinal care is to address the cause of spinal misalignment and “brain to body” communication thus allowing the body to heal.
If you are suffering from disc problems, neck pain or low back pain and happen to live in the Edwardsville / Glen Carbon, Maryville or St. Louis area, consider giving us a call at (618) 692-6992 to schedule a free consultation today. Drs. Thad and Nikki Vuagniaux and are here to provide your family with non-invasive care to live your healthiest life!
Our focus is on helping your body do what it was always intended to do – heal itself!