Can a Chiropractor Treat Your Herniated Disc & Pain?

Could a chiropractor help your herniated disc pain? A lot of people are fearful of chiropractors and it's understandable. The "pops" and "cracks" can be irksome and when you're already in pain, the idea of having your body manipulated can be very scary. However, before you shut down the idea of a chiropractor to treat herniated discs, read on! A chiropractor can be a great "middle of the road" treatment that could help you avoid or postpone surgery.

In more severe herniated disc cases, a discectomy decompression surgery may be the best course of action. However, before going under the knife, it's important to explore less invasive methods to treating and alleviating your back pain. One avenue to explore is seeing a chiropractor for your herniated disc. In an initial meeting with your chiropractor, he/she will examine you to see if you're a chiropractic candidate.

Read on to learn how a chiropractor may treat your disc herniation and the pros and cons of a chiropractor.

What is a herniated disc? A herniated disc, sometimes called a "bulging disc" or "ruptured disc" can be very painful. Interestingly, you can live with herniated disc for a long period of time before you may even know about it. A disk becomes herniated when the exterior of the disk cracks, pushing an interior gel-like material (the nucleus) out. This rupture rubs against nerves in your spine and vertebrae which causes pain and other symptoms. Symptoms include numbness, tingling, sciatica etc.

Pros of Seeing a Chiropractor

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  • Can reduce pain and improve mobility.

  • Non-invasive and an alternative treatment to surgery. Patients should almost always exhaust less-invasive treatments before surgery.

  • Drug-free treatment! There's no medication to take and therefore no medication-related side-effects.

  • A highly trained expert. A chiropractor is a doctor with an expert knowledge of the body and the musculoskeletal structure. Your chiropractor should be able to manipulate your spine, cutting down pain and promoting healing.

  • Likely covered by insurance. Triple check your coverage, but chiropractic care is included in most insurance plans like Medicare, Medicaid, Blue Cross Blue Shield etc.

Cons of Seeing a Chiropractor

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  • Not recommended for everyone. Depending on the severity of your ruptured disc or other medical factors, you may not be a candidate for chiropractic work.

  • Anxiety-Inducing/ Scary. Although the "pops" and "cracks" you hear are really just the release of pressurized gas in your joint, it can sceeve some people out. Fear of the chiropractor, like fear of the dentist, affects many people.

  • Potential for side-effects. With manipulations to your spine and body, some patients experience temporary side effects like soreness, headaches, tiredness etc.

  • Low risk, but still... With almost anything in life and with most medical treatments there is some risk involved. Although very low, it wouldn't be fair to ignore the risks associated with chiropractic work. There is low, mentionable risk of bone fracture, bone damage (especially in younger patients), nerve damage, and stroke.

Think your herniated disc problems are beyond chiropractic treatment? Learn about the 4 different types of spine and lower back surgeries.

Seeing a Chiropractor for a Herniated Disc

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For many with a herniated disc, the pros of a chiropractor outweigh the cons. Have you been referred to a chiropractor by your doctor or care team? Regardless, if you've been toying with the idea of seeing a chiropractor for your back pain, here's what you can expect from the process.

Before getting down to business, your chiropractor will assess you. This may mean pulling up results from x-rays or MRI, to running an in-office exam analyzing your posture. If any assessments show that you have neurological issues or your symptoms are severe (loss of feeling, little sensation etc.) you will likely be recommended to work with an orthopedic surgeon instead.

Before your first chiropractic session to treat a bulging disc your chiropractor will look for:

  • Any neurological issues. Are your reflexes operating within the normal range?

  • Muscle loss, weakness and strength. Are you showing signs of muscle loss?

  • Do you have loss of feeling or sensation?

  • Treatable abnormalities/ confirmation from medical results (X-ray/ MRI) that you do have a herniated disc.

If all things are a go, your chiropractor will work out a course of action with you.

With a chiropractor, results aren't immediate. Improvements will be made gradually with adjustments made over several appointments.

2 Popular Techniques Used to Treat Herniated Discs

Depending on what your chiropractor's exam and your imagery shows, he/she may use a handful of techniques to relieve your herniated disc issue. Here are three common techniques for treatment your chiropractor may discuss with your or perform:

1. Flexion-Distraction Technique

This technique is done on a special table that stretches out the back and spinal column. Using a slow, pumping rhythm your chiropractor will work the problem area. By stimulating your disc, while your spine is stretched out, the disc can be manipulated back into a more natural position. By shifting the disc back away from the nerve, pain and inflammation can reduce. This can also help with feelings of sciatica, leg pain, and numbness.

2. Pelvic Blocking Technique

Simply, pelvic blocking is when the patient lays down on the table with cushioned wedges placed under the pelvis (hence the name!). These cushions alter your posture and temporarily alleviate pressure on your spine and discs. Weight may be added to your lower abdomen area to deepen the stretch and open up the area. This is a very low-force technique that is more of a gentle exercise.

Pro Tip: Think of seeing a chiropractor as one tool in your tool belt of treatment. Chiropractic work should be used alongside physical therapy, and an at-home PreHab back/spine program that addresses the myriad of factors that'll reduce your herniated disc and flare-up.

Thinking you may need a discectomy for your herniated disc? Have no fear! A discectomy is one of the most common and effective back surgeries. Learn more about discectomy surgery, when you may be a candidate. Read "Discectomy for Lumbar Herniated Disc" and learn everything you need to know.


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Hi, I'm Grace. I write and research about hip and knee replacements, PreHab before orthopedic surgery & ReHab. Content advised or co-authored with physicians (MD) and orthopedic surgeons (OS).

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