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  • Dr Jon Clarke (Chiropractor)

Disc-Related Back Problems? Manual Therapies May Be the Solution…


man-with-disc-pain
Diagnose Disc Pain in Saltash

Spinal disc problems such as herniated discs are a leading cause of serious chronic back and neck pain around the world.


In the UK, back pain is the largest single cause of disability and spinal surgery cases are rising sharply, with waiting periods from referral to treatment increasing.


Despite the highly invasive nature of spinal surgery and a lack of evidence to demonstrate its effectiveness for treating disc problems, there seems to be a reluctance to consider manual therapies like chiropractic care, or one of its more developed derivatives like non-surgical reconstructive care as an alternative to mainstream approaches.


Why is this?


It’s not due to a lack of evidence of the benefits of manual therapies. As you will see from the study summaries that follow, plenty of research backs manual therapies up.


There appears to be a lack of awareness from the general public about the value of chiropractic care and other related therapies for back pain.


The medical establishment is therefore under no pressure to embrace it.


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What are spinal disc problems?


Spinal disc problems result from abnormalities in the discs that separate the vertebrae in the spinal column.

These discs are designed to absorb shock. They have a soft spongy or rubbery inner section surrounded by a hard outer coating.

When discs develop problems, potentially debilitating pain can develop. Apart from back pain, typical symptoms include:

  • Back spasms

  • Sciatica

  • Pain in the legs

  • Tingling or numbness

  • Muscle weakness

  • Loss of lower body function

Typical spinal disc-related problems include:

Herniated Disc

  • Herniated discs (also known as slipped discs or prolapsed discs) – where the centre of the disc swells under stress and breaks out of the tough outer covering.

  • Extruded discs - where the nucleus of the disc bulges and squeezes through a weakness or tear in the outer covering but the soft material remains intact.

  • Degenerative disc disease – this term is usually used for age-related disc problems resulting from changes to the condition of the bone that forms the disc.

  • Spondylolisthesis – where one of the lower vertebrae slips forward onto the bone directly beneath it. When this is particularly severe, it is called spondyloptosis.


When a disc is caused to bulge or herniate, it can impinge on surrounding nerves (sometimes referred to as “radiculopathy”) and may cause extreme “radicular” pain.

Problems are usually diagnosed by x-ray or MRI.


Around 90 percent occur in the lumbar region (lower back), largely because of the extra pressures exerted there. This is usually termed lumbar disc herniation (LDH).

What is the mainstream medical approach to disc problems like herniation?


For people with spinal disc issues, the pain can develop and intensify if left untreated. This can lead to loss of mobility, quality of life, and ability to work.

The conventional approaches to serious spinal disc problems like herniated discs usually involve one of two options:

  • Nothing can be done and you must manage the pain with over-the-counter or prescription painkillers/injections

  • You need surgery

Neither of these is ideal, of course.

Being consigned to a lifetime of painkilling medication exposes patients to a wide variety of potential side effects.

The NHS itself notes “ineffective but costly injections” and says “there are large numbers of patients being given injections with low evidence of effectiveness.”

Surgery is time-consuming for the patient (there are long waiting lists on the NHS), inconvenient (a long recovery period), and there are no guarantees of success. In fact, the success rate of back surgery is quite poor.

Again, on the NHS website, we read: “there are a significant number of treatments with a poor evidence base.”

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