Treating Herniated and Degenerative Disc Injuries Without Surgery

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Chiropractors use a combination of chiropractic adjustments, spinal decompression and core strengthening to treat herniated discs and degenerative disc injuries without surgery.

Can you explain what a herniated and a degenerative disc is?

Dr. Kyle Robertson: Absolutely.  Each segment of your spine is separated by a disc, which gives the spine its mobility and acts as basically a shock absorber for the spine. A herniated disc can easily be explained by using a simple analogy. A disc can be almost like represented by a jelly donut. There’s a softer, jelly-like material in the center, which is surrounded by a slightly harder exterior. So, what happens is a disc herniation occurs when that jelly protrudes out through the harder exterior of fibers.

Symptoms of a herniated disc can depend on where the disc herniates, so if it herniates forward you may not have any symptoms because there’s no neurological tissue like your spinal cord or nerves in that area, but it’s when it herniates backwards pressing toward the spinal cord or nerves then bigger problems can arise such as classic sciatic pain. Some people get numbness, tingling or even weakness or loss in motor functions in the muscle of that are affected by the nerves that are supplied in the area where the disc is herniated. So that nerve can be affected by that material that’s pressing on it.

A degenerative disc is more easily described as disc thinning or almost like disc degeneration or arthritis, which happens generally over time.

How are these disc problems diagnosed?

Dr. Kyle Robertson: Typically, disc problems are diagnosed with a combination of an examination, but usually with additional imaging such as X-Ray or MRI. The gold standard for detecting disc issues is an MRI because it shows the actual disc and its surrounding tissue. X-Ray is more for looking at the bone where we can see degeneration because the bones become closer to each other, and we can see some side effects of that wear and tear that happens. However, you can’t see any of the soft tissue in the disc itself or any of the soft tissue that it’s affecting without looking at an MRI.

And could you describe a typical chiropractic treatment program for someone suffering from a herniated or degenerative disc?

Dr. Kyle Robertson: Yeah, so typically chiropractic treatment for a disc issue can be more complex than treating for a typical neck issue such as a strain. This is because as we said earlier, a disc herniation can be pressing on nerve tissue, which then leads to other issues like that weakness or numbness or tingling that we talked about. Because of this, we need to use more precise techniques to target the individual disc space so we don’t cause possible damage to other nerve tissues in which the disc is disrupted.

Chiropractic adjustments are effective in properly aligning and mobilizing the segments around the affected disc to allow for proper motion and forced distribution along different segments of the spine. In addition, a very effective chiropractic technique to treat disc issues is called flexion distraction. This is done using more of the chiropractic table by providing a light traction using a specific table that flexes up and down and stretches the spine under some light traction just to decompress the affected disc space.

Although it’s a gentle technique, it puts a large amount of negative pressure into the disc space allowing the space to expand, which encourages that disc to reduce. So, it gives you increased disc height while creating a negative pressure, encouraging that herniated disc material to reset into place to a certain extent.

How many treatment sessions does it typically take before a patient can expect to feel relief from back pain due to a spinal disc problem?

Dr. Kyle Robertson: Well, depending on the disc location and severity of the problem, the prognosis can differ greatly. However, in most cases significant changes in pain can be achieved in just a few sessions. Some more of the severe disc herniations and degenerative changes can take longer, but these treatments are very effective even in chronic and severe cases. We see a lot of people who have had surgery in the past that end up either having re-injury or don’t improve with the surgery and then they end up coming to do those conservative measures such as chiropractic or physical therapy and they see great results with that as well.

What are some additional therapies used in conjunction with chiropractic care to naturally help heal a spinal disc injury?

Dr. Kyle Robertson: Additional therapies include non-surgical spinal decompression, which is basically a sophisticated tractioning device tailored to treat degenerative and herniated discs with more specificity. So, you’ve heard of those inversion tables, things like that. It’s a similar concept, however this one’s much more specific to the level that is herniated or degenerated and then we’re applying a lot more force through that area using these specific machines.

This is a non-invasive technique, so no surgical techniques are needed for this. It’s all very conservative.

Another important aspect used in conjunction with chiropractic care is core strengthening which allows the body to properly stabilize itself. So, with a typical disc herniation, we’ll typically do the chiropractic treatments. We will use spinal decompression to help decompress the disc along with those other specific chiropractic techniques such as flexion distraction to try to open up the disc space, but without some core stabilization, that’s all just going to come right back.

So, stabilizing the core, and the patient maintaining that, is very important to the longevity of the treatment.

If you are interested in speaking with Dr. Kyle Robertson at Ferraro Spine and Rehabilitation please visit or call 973-478-2212 to schedule an appointment.

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