There are 3 common stages of back pain,
1) Joint restriction
2) Disc Derangement
3) Disc herniation
There are 52 synovial joints in the spine and one of the most common causes of back pain is when these joints become restricted i.e. it doesn’t move as well as it should. When a joint becomes restricted the brain sends a message to the local muscles to move it (Hilton’s Law) but the joint can’t move…this cycle continues leading to muscle tightness/stiffness and pain.
Example - If you've ever been for a long drive you’ll know after a period of time you start to move around and fidget in your seat because your back, neck, hips, knees etc start to ache. This is because the joints are not moving. Fidgeting will help for a short period of time but then you'll feel the need to get out and ‘stretch your legs’. Once you're out of the car and move around the services etc the joints can move again and the pain/discomfort almost immediately starts to reduce.
What chiropractors do is find the restrictions in the facet joints and perform an adjustment to restore movement, which provides the same relief to the joint and muscles as getting out the car in the example above.
Discs are designed to act like a shock absorber between the bones of your spine. They are designed with a thick fluid in the middle called the nucleus pulposus which is surrounded by many rings of cartilage called the annulus fibrosis.
Throughout life when we lift things, play sport, work or have accidents these fibres can tear this allows the thick fluid to slowly make its way towards the outside of the disc. The issue with this progression is the inner part of the disc has no nerve supply so at first we don’t feel what is happening until the thick fluid makes its way far enough out that we get a little ‘niggle’, which often goes away but keeps randomly coming back. I commonly hear from patient’s,
“I only put my sock on…”
“All I did was get something out of the boot…”
“I just leant down to pick up the….”
It wasn't that single action that cause you to experience the pain, it was a gradual progression over months/years of the nucleus pulposus slowing moving outwards and reaching the part of the disc that has a nerve supply, thus causing you to feel the pain.
A disc herniation is when you have gone through the disc derangement phase and now the nucleus pulposus has moved so far out that the disc is starting to bulge out and touch a nerve root which can give symptoms down the arms or legs.
So how do chiropractors help?
Let me start by saying chiropractors do not heal the disc…like a cut or a broken bone, the body does that all by itself. What we do is adjust the restricted areas in the local joints to allow the disc to be loaded as equally as possible. If you imagine pushing on 1 side of a jam doughnut the jam in the middle would be pushed to the opposite side right? Well this is what happens to a disc. If the forces you put through your spine are distributed as centrally/evenly as possible with the correct support from the muscular system you will increase the amount of activity your body can tolerate, therefore reduce the risk of you feeling your symptoms.
By regularly seeking chiropractic care it has been proven to reduced days sick by 14 days per year compared to only seeing a chiropractor when your are in pain.(1)
If this sounds like you or someone you know book in today to see if we can help!