Back Pain and Herniated Discs

A 30-year-old mom bends over to pick up her four-year-old and feels a sharp stabbing pain in her lower back. A 60-year-old man bends over to pick up his five-year-old grandchild and feels an electrical shooting pain in his lower back. For both, the pain is so severe they need to sit down.

The next day, both the mom and the grandfather notice they now have pain and numbness radiating down one leg, and they are having trouble walking.

What's going on, how did it happen, and what can be done about it?

First of all, a little basic anatomy is useful. Spinal discs are weight-bearing shock absorbers. They contain a gel-like ball-bearing center, which is surrounded by tough fibrous cartilage, arranged in concentric, criss-crossing circles.1

As a person gets older, the discs naturally lose some of their water content, and cracks and fissures naturally develop in the fibrous cartilage. If a weight-bearing stress is unusual and unexpected, the gel-like material in the center of the disc can push through one of the fissures and possibly irritate a spinal nerve.

If enough of this material pushes through, the nerve can become inflamed and cause symptoms such as radiating pain and/or numbness, and possibly weakness, in one leg.

Typically, such pain and/or numbness radiates down the leg, traveling below the knee and possibly into the foot.

Such symptoms, with or without back pain, are highly suggestive of an inflamed spinal nerve. In fact, the person will usually say the leg symptoms are much worse and of greater concern than any back pain that may be present.

If the MRI confirms the disc herniation and suggests an inflamed nerve, the diagnosis is complete. What's next?

In the best scenario, conservative treatment may be sufficient and the nerve inflammation improves with time.2,3 Anti-inflammatory medication may be helpful. Chiropractic conservative therapy may include physical therapeutic modalities and gentle trigger point therapy to relieve associated muscle spasms.

A spinal surgeon should be consulted to provide an additional opinion and input. If pain is severe and there is neurologic loss, surgery may be the best option.

Of course, the best management, as always, is prevention. Pay attention to safe lifting procedures. Exercise regularly and get sufficient rest. Your chiropractor will be able to provide guidance and recommend effective protocols to help you achieve and maintain good health and wellness.

1Postacchini F: Lumbar Disc Herniation. Springer, 2004, Chapter 2.
2Rothoerl RD, et al: When should conservative treatment for lumbar disc herniation be ceased and surgery considered? Neurosurg Rev 25(3):162-165, 2002.
3Lumbar Disc Herniation. New Engl J Med 347(21):1728-1729, 2002.

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Atlas Chiropractic of Sarasota

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Testimonials

  • "Dear Dr. Zabawa,
    I want to thank you for being my #1 healthcare provider.
    I have been under chiropractic care for 40 years and of the many chiropractors I have been treated by,
    you and your precise atlas adjustment are the best.
    It really is gentle and effective. I've had migraines, scoliosis, herniated L4-L5, and sciatica -
    and in the 11 yrs of being under your care I have had no problems or re-occurrence of any
    of my former symptoms.
    You are the best and I thank you."
    Judy B.
  • "Hi, I'll always remember the wonderful things you've done for me at Atlas Chiropractic of Sarasota.
    I thank Dr. Zabawa for getting me up and running!
    My last chiropractor said there was nothing else they could do for me, and I felt as if my life was over.
    (I couldn't even play video games without pain.)
    Now that I've been introduced to your atlas adjustments: I'm lifting weights again, working (making money),
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    THANK YOU!!!!!"
    Lyle H.
  • "We've had 40 years of various types of chiropractic therapies (sometimes weekly),
    but have never felt truly aligned until now."
    Marsha & Alain M.
  • "I was diagnosed with scoliosis as a child, and through good habits & care have managed to avoid surgery.
    About 30 years ago my research into spinal maintenance led me to upper cervical chiropractic
    (specifically orthospinology) over general chiropractic.
    This is just phenomenal. When my atlas is adjusted and my spine is aligned, it is amazing how good I feel.
    It helps the nerves and muscles of the body function so well, and I believe it has been the key to slowing
    the spinal degeneration caused by my scoliosis.
    * And it's so non-invasive! *
    Now that I live in Sarasota, I am so glad to be under the care of Dr. Zabawa.
    It's no surprise that he came highly recommended. I have always been impressed with
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    It compares to anywhere in the country."
    Kyle Ann M.
  • "Very thorough. Quick recovery after a car wreck!"
    Nathaniel B.
  • "For 3 years I had been having headaches every day.
    I even went to a neurologist for my headaches, but he said they were a condition of menopause :(
    A friend suggested going to Dr. Z because of the unique procedure he uses and the great results.
    Dr. Z took care of me and within about 3 months my daily headaches were gone.
    What a relief!
    I don't think I've had one since :)"
    Allaesia M.
  • "I lived in pain with an undiagnosed broken back for 23 years since a horse & buggy accident as a teenager.
    When I injured my back again as an adult, the x-rays showed that I had fractured a vertebra back then,
    as well as this time.
    I received some help from going to regular chiropractors in recent years, but still lived in pain.
    I am so thankful that I found Dr. Zabawa.
    After 35 years and lots of pain, within a month or so
    I was PAIN FREE!
    It is amazing how such small adjustments to the atlas vertebra in my neck have made such
    a big difference to my life.
    To this day, I come in periodically to maintain my new found health.
    Praise and glory to God."
    Mary T.