Slipped Disc – What Is That Exactly?

By · Monday, April 5th, 2010

Clear Lake City Chiropractor Comments: “I was digging a hole in my garden and hit a rock with the shovel.  After clearing the dirt from around the rock, I bent over and reached into the hole.  I couldn’t get a good grip on the rock and had to twist my body to get my arm under it.  As I started to move the rock, I felt something ‘give out’ in my low back and felt immediate low back pain, but it wasn’t terrible.  Like a fool, I gave it another try but this time, the pain in my back was really sharp when I twisted to reach under it.  Then, it felt like a knife stabbing me when I tried to stand up.  Since then, I can’t stand up straight and pain is shooting down my left leg.”

The intervertebral disc is like a shock-absorber located between each vertebra in our spine extending from the tail one to the upper neck.  When healthy, your discs truly do function as shock absorbers.  There are two parts to the disc – the inner part (called the nucleus) which is the liquid-like center and the outer part (the annulus), which is tough, laminated and rubber-like whose job is to hold the nucleus in the center of the disk. The annulus has concentric rings which look similar to the rings of an oak tree trunk and the strength of these laminated rings is due to the fibers crisscrossing, creating a self-sealing, secure border for the nucleus center.  In spite of this great anatomical structure, our discs degenerate and can crack or tear allowing the more liquid-like nucleus to leak out of the annulus creating the classic “slipped disc” (technically referred to as a herniated or ruptured disc).  When the herniated disc presses into the nerve that goes down the leg, pain is felt along its course and can radiate all the way to the foot.  There are five vertebrae and disks with a pair of nerves that go into each leg and depending which disc ruptures, pain will follow a different course down the leg, which is why we ask you if you feel the pain more in the back or in the front of the leg. When the disc tears prior to both disc herniation and leg pain, low back pain occurs because the nerve fibers that are normally only located in the outer third of the disc grow into the central portion of the disc, making it generate more pain.

So now for the important question, “…what can I do for it?”  When you visit our office, we will ask you about how you injured your back.  Often, the cause of a herniated disc can be the accumulation of multiple events over time. It certainly can happen after one major event, like our example of lifting a rock out of a hole, but that is usually the “straw that breaks the camel’s back” and not the sole cause.  Many researchers have reported it is rare for a healthy disc to herniate.  Rather, disk degeneration with tears already present sets up the situation where a bend plus a twist, “…finishes the job.”  The orthopedic and neurological examination will usually clearly identify the level of herniation.  Chiropractic treatment often includes traction types of techniques, some form of spinal manipulation or mobilization, extension exercises, physical therapy modalities like electric stimulation, low level laser, or ultrasound, and ice therapy.  Core / trunk strengthening and posture management are also commonly applied and, proper bending/lifting/pulling/pushing techniques are taught.  As long as you have not lost bowel or bladder control, you are better off seeing if conservative care can relieve your pain before looking at surgical options.

Dr. Ward Beecher practices at Beecher Chiropractic Clinic at 1001 Pineloch, Ste 700 Houston, TX 77062. You can schedule an appointment at or by calling (281) 286-1300. If you have any questions regarding this blog, please comment below!

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