A disc herniation is among the most serious spinal complaints that cause people to come seek help in our office. Often described as a “slipped disc” they can cause a myriad of issues including pain and weakness in the lower back, buttocks, and legs. Many patients can pinpoint when they occur and will describe a exact incident where they felt a “pop” or give in their low back during an activity. Lumbar disc herniations can be relatively mild and are fairly common in our society. In fact, studies have even shown that 20-36% of people may have symptom free herniations! That said, many disc herniations will have a number of telltale signs beyond low back pain that you should be aware of. Here are the 3 signs that the pain and discomfort may be coming from a herniated disc in the lumbar spine:
- You have pain shooting down one of both of the legs. The disc can herniate or become injured in a number of areas and sometimes it can refer pain down one or both of the legs depending on the type, severity, and location of the injury. A patient will sometimes refer to this pain as “sciatica“. Radiating pain isn’t the only sensation that you may feel in the buttocks or legs – sometimes a herniated disc may cause numbness, tingling, or a “pins and needles” feeling.
- You can’t “get away from the pain”. Sometimes after a disc herniation, there can be a part of the disc that is squeezed out of the disc itself in into the spinal canal and surrounding areas. This material can be thick and jelly-like (sometimes described as toothpaste) and can directly place pressure on and irritate the nerves coming out of the low back. This chemical irritation will persist no matter how you move because it is directly affecting the nerve. Careful examination will inform us whether this chemical irritation will pass relatively quickly or may need further intervention.
- You are having trouble walking and have weakness in your feet and legs. Pain and difficulty while getting up out of a chair, weakness in one or both legs, and walking is a common complaint in many low back pain cases and especially in the case of a herniated disc. It is true that it may not have anything to do with a disc herniation, but persistent difficulty with walking, weakness in the legs and feet, and trouble standing up may be a sign of a disc herniation.
In some cases of a disc herniations a patient may feel numbness in theri genitals or a loss of control with bowel and/or bladder dysfunction. These can be signs of a very serious condition called cauda equina syndrome. If you ever feel symptoms like this go directly to the emergency room for evaluation and treatment. Any delay in treatment could increase the risk of permanent neurological changes.
The good news is that disc herniations respond favorably in most cases to modern, evidence-based chiropractic care. Whether they are old (chronic) or new (acute), there are a variety of methods to successfully rehabilitate disc injuries. Some patients will feel that a disc injury will lead to a lifetime of pain and dysfunction but on average, most people who follow proper procedure will have good outcomes and can often do the things that they love to do. Many people will experience the signs of a herniated disc and not have one at all. Inflammation and irritation to the disc itself without herniation may mimic many of the signs and a qualified chiropractic physician can use a variety of examination techniques, including McKenzie classification, to determine the type and severity of injury – often without expensive radiology. Of course those studies will be ordered when the situation needs further clarity. If you, or a loved one are experiencing the signs of a lumbar disc herniation do not hesitate to call us at 907-222-2100.
P.S. If you would rather watch than read, here is a short video on the subject: