Understanding Disc Injury: Causes, Symptoms, and Chiropractic Treatment Options

Dr. Matt McNabb

Understanding disc injury: Explore causes, symptoms, and chiropractic treatments for herniated discs, bulging discs, and degenerative disc disease. 

If you’re experiencing back pain, it could be due to a disc injury. Discs are the shock-absorbing cushions between the vertebrae in your spine. When understanding disc injury becomes damaged or displaced, it can cause pain, numbness, and weakness in the back, legs, or arms. In this article, we’ll dive deep into understanding disc injuries – the different types, common causes, symptoms to watch for, and how chiropractic care can provide non-invasive, drug-free treatment to relieve pain and promote healing.

Key Takeaways:

  • Disc injuries occur when the rubbery discs between vertebrae become damaged or displaced
  • Common types include herniated discs, bulging discs, and degenerative disc disease
  • Symptoms may include localized pain, radiating pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness
  • Risk factors include age, obesity, poor posture, repetitive motions, and trauma
  • Chiropractors use spinal adjustments, decompression, and other therapies to treat disc injuries

Types of Disc Injuries

X-ray visualization of the human spine highlighting disc injury and compression in the cervical and lumbar regions

Different types of disc injuries occur in the spine. Understanding disc injuries is important

Herniated Discs

Also known as a slipped or ruptured disc, a herniated disc happens when the soft inner material of the disc pushes out through a tear in the tough outer layer. This can put pressure on nearby nerves, causing pain, numbness, or weakness in the affected area. Herniated discs most commonly occur in the lower back (lumbar spine) or neck (cervical spine).

Bulging Discs

A bulging disc is when the disc extends beyond its normal boundaries but hasn’t ruptured. It’s more common than a herniated disc. While it may not always cause symptoms, a severely bulging disc can still compress nerves and cause pain.

Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease isn’t a disease, but rather the normal wear and tear on spinal discs that happens with age. As discs lose moisture and become thinner, they provide less cushioning between vertebrae. This can lead to pain, inflammation, and sometimes the development of bone spurs.

Causes and Risk Factors

A medical illustration showing the human spine with highlighted areas indicating potential disc injury or pain in the lower back region.

Understanding disc injuries can have many causes, including:

  • Age: Discs naturally become less flexible and more prone to damage as we get older
  • Poor posture: Slouching or hunching can put extra stress on the spine and discs
  • Repetitive motions: Jobs or hobbies that involve repetitive lifting, twisting, or bending can increase the risk of disc injury
  • Obesity: Extra weight puts added strain on the discs and joints of the spine
  • Trauma: Falls, car accidents, or sports injuries can cause discs to rupture or shift out of place
  • Smoking: Nicotine reduces blood flow to the discs, causing them to dry out and crack
  • Genetics: Some people may be predisposed to disc problems due to inherited factors

Symptoms of Disc Injuries

An illustration depicting a person sitting on the floor with a visible spine showing a herniated or bulging disc, surrounded by plants and household objects, suggesting the context of managing a spinal disc injury through chiropractic treatment and a healthy lifestyle.

Symptoms of a disc injury can vary depending on the location and severity of the damage. Common signs include:

  • Localized pain: Pain at the site of the injured disc, such as the lower back or neck
  • Radiating pain: Pain, numbness, or tingling that travels down the leg (sciatica) or arm
  • Weakness: Muscle weakness in the legs or arms
  • Stiffness and reduced range of motion in the back or neck
  • Worsening pain with sitting, bending, or lifting
  • Spasms: Painful muscle spasms in the back

If you experience sudden onset of numbness or weakness, loss of bladder or bowel control, or severe pain after an injury, seek immediate medical attention.

Diagnosing Disc Injuries

An illustrative diagram depicting the causes, symptoms, and potential injuries related to disc problems in the spine, with labels highlighting poor posture, heavy lifting, disc herniation, muscle spasms, and other contributing factors and effects.

To diagnose a disc injury, a chiropractor will start with a thorough medical history and physical exam. They’ll ask about your symptoms, activities, and any recent injuries or accidents. During the exam, they’ll check your spine for tenderness, alignment, range of motion, reflexes, and muscle strength.

Imaging tests may be used to get a closer look at the discs and rule out other conditions:

  • X-rays can show the alignment of vertebrae and rule out fractures, but can’t visualize the discs directly
  • MRI scans use magnetic fields and radio waves to create detailed images of the discs and surrounding soft tissues
  • CT scans combine X-rays from various angles to produce cross-sectional images of the spine
  • Discograms involve injecting dye into a disc and then taking an X-ray or CT scan to pinpoint damage

Your chiropractor may also perform a neurological exam or recommend nerve conduction studies to check for nerve compression or damage.

Chiropractic Treatment for Disc Injuries

An anatomical illustration showing the human back and spine with the lower back area highlighted in red, indicating potential disc injury or lower back pain.

Chiropractic care offers a conservative, non-invasive approach to treating disc injuries and relieving symptoms. The goal is to take pressure off the discs, restore proper alignment and mobility to the spine, and strengthen the supporting muscles. Chiropractors use a variety of techniques, understanding disc injuries including:

Spinal Adjustments

Precise manual adjustments can gently push bulging or herniated discs away from nerve roots and back into place. This helps reduce inflammation and relieve pressure on pinched nerves. Specific techniques like flexion-distraction or pelvic blocking may be used to isolate and treat injured discs.

Spinal Decompression

Non-surgical spinal decompression therapy uses a motorized traction table to gently stretch the spine. This creates negative pressure within the discs, allowing bulging or herniated material to be pulled back into place. Decompression also promotes the flow of water, oxygen, and nutrient-rich fluids into the discs to jumpstart the healing process.

Physiotherapy Modalities

Chiropractors may use additional therapies to complement spinal adjustments, such as:

  • Ultrasound: Sound waves create gentle heat to increase circulation and reduce swelling
  • Electrical stimulation: Low-voltage electric current can relieve muscle spasms and pain
  • Cold laser therapy: Non-thermal laser light penetrates deep to stimulate cellular repair and healing

Rehabilitation Exercises

Targeted exercises can improve flexibility and strength in the muscles that support the spine. This helps relieve pressure on the discs, improve posture, and prevent future injuries. Your chiropractor will teach you stretches and exercises to do at home and may recommend a physical therapy program.

Lifestyle Changes

In addition to in-office treatments, your chiropractor will work with you to incorporate healthy habits into your daily routine, such as:

  • Proper lifting techniques to avoid straining the back
  • Ergonomic workstations to reduce stress on the spine during long periods of sitting
  • Good posture to maintain the natural curves of the spine
  • Staying active with low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, or cycling
  • Maintaining a healthy weight to reduce pressure on the spine
  • Quitting smoking to improve disc health


Understanding disc injury are a common cause of back pain, but with the right care, most people can find relief and get back to their normal activities. By understanding the different types of disc problems, their causes, and the various treatment options available, you can take an active role in your spinal health.

If you think you may have a disc injury, don’t wait to seek help. The sooner you address the problem, the better your chances of a full recovery. Schedule an appointment with our Boca Raton chiropractic clinic to get a thorough evaluation and personalized treatment plan. Our experienced team is here to help you understand your condition, relieve your pain, and support your body’s natural healing process. Call Us.

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