The 24 vertebrae of your spine are separated from one another by pads of cartilage called discs. These discs have a fairly tough outer layer (called the annulus) with a soft interior (called the nucleus) to cushion against the shocks and strains experienced as you move and put various stresses on your spine. The discs are subject to injury, disease, and degeneration with use over time. Certain activities and types of work increase the risk of discs being damaged or deteriorating.
When the soft interior material of a disc pushes out through a tear or weakening in the outer layer, the disc is said to be herniated. Herniated discs cause pain by impinging on (or pinching) and even injuring nerves in the spinal column.
Most disc herniations take place in the lower back (lumbar spine). The neck (cervical spine) is the second most common site of herniations. A herniated lumbar disc may send pain shooting down your buttock and thigh into the back of your leg (sciatica). Cervical disc herniations may cause pain in the shoulder, arm, and hand. Herniated discs can cause muscle weakness, make it hard to stand up straight, and cause pain when you strain to do things including coughing and sneezing. Herniated discs may also affect nerves to the bladder and bowel, causing incontinence. This symptom signals the need for immediate, emergency attention.
As the disc undergoes the process of degeneration, it loses the ability to retain the hydration necessary to support the spine. The result is a diffuse bulging similar to a tire that loses air pressure. Bulging discs are a common occurrence and are often asymptomatic. When the area gets inflamed due to an injury, the bulging disc becomes more painful.
A bulging disc is technically not the same as a herniated disc, although the terms are often interchanged. As stated above, with a herniated disc, the inner contents of the disc leak out through a crack in the outer portion of the disc. With a bulging disc, the disc and its contents remain intact. Bulging discs also tend to not cause as severe neurological signs and symptoms as herniated discs do.
Many healthcare professionals recommend that herniated and bulging discs be initially treated conservatively. Three or four months of chiropractic care may be the best choice before considering spinal surgery or shots of analgesics (painkillers) in your back. Only a minority of disc herniations turn out to require treatment as traumatic and costly as surgery or with as many side effects as analgesics and muscle relaxants.
The Cox Flexion and Distraction Technique was specifically developed for the treatment of disc problems. It is effective in reducing the disc bulge or herniation, eliciting a reduction in pain and other associated symptoms. The Activator Technique is also very effective in treating disc problems. Because it is a gentle technique that does not involve any twisting motion, it is very safe for the treatment of herniated or bulging discs. By adjusting the spine, the stress on the discs is minimized, the pain relieved, the damaged or displaced structures are given a chance to heal, and your ability to return to normal functioning is restored.