I’m sure we all know someone who has a herniated disc or perhaps you have herniated a disc yourself. Unfortunately, in our society with the lifestyle we lead, disc issues are far too common. I will focus primarily on herniated disc syndrome in the low back.
What is a Herniated Disc?
A herniated disc can sometimes be referred to as a slipped disc or a ruptured disc. But really they all mean the same thing. A disc is the rubbery cushion between the vertebrae, it’s there to help with impact from our day-to-day lives as well as make it so we can easily move without having our vertebra grinding on each other as we move. If you imagine the disc as a jelly donut, the outside (annulus) is harder than the inside (nucleus). With repetitive strain and impact the jelly from the donut will eventually protrude out one side of the donut. This is the same for a disc. There is not one specific direction in which a disc will herniate.
Once the disc has herniated, it can irritate near by nerves, and that is when you will have numbness or tingling sensations. Fortunately, not all people who have a herniated disc will experience numbness and tingling. “A study showed that as many as 1/3 to 1/2 of healthy asymptomatic young men consisted of having a disc bulge or herniation”.
Where does it happen?
You can herniate a disc anywhere along the spine. There are 23 discs in the human spine: 6 in the neck (cervical region), 12 in the middle back (thoracic region), and 5 in the lower back (lumbar region). Although neither the Sacrum nor the connection between the skull-C1 and C1-C2 have discs.
Are you at a higher risk?
- People who spend a lot of time sitting and leaning forward. Studies show, the highest amount of pressure measured within the intervertebral disc occurs while sitting.
- Years of repetitive motion can gradually break down the annulus fibrosis, which will make it more vulnerable. Unfortunately, at that point any minor stress can induce a disc herniation or bulge.
- If you are over weight your chances of a herniated disc can increase. In the body, the discs are partially supported by the pressure created by the abdominal muscles and organs; this pressure helps to keep the discs in place. Carrying around extra weight constantly strains your back— you’re practically doing heavy lifting all the time!
Can Acupuncture Help?
Acupuncture has been known to help alleviate pain, numbness, or tingling associated with herniated discs. The beauty of acupuncture is that the way the meridians flow, there are points that can actually help with back pain on your feet and hands. So for a severely acute case, the distal (hand and feet) points would be predominantly used to help alleviate pain.
In order for a disc to become herniated, there tend to be an imbalance between specific muscles. By addressing the motor points of the anterior and posterior muscles, it will help realign the spine. By properly realigning the spine, it will take any unnecessary pressure of your disc. Also, when you do come in for acupuncture, it is extremely important to let me know if you have a herniated and if you know which way it has herniated. This lets me know if I am able to needle along the spine as well.
Seeing your doctor, diligent acupuncture treatments and specific exercises can help you recover much quicker than if you were to just lie around. So, I have put together a little video of exercises to help with a herniated disc. Enjoy!
Sports Medicine Acupuncture Manual
The Acupuncture Handbook of Sports Injuries and Pain