Part 1: Causes and Symptoms

Discs are small, rubber-like, soft pads found in between the vertebrae that form the spinal column. These discs help keep the flexibility of the spine and serve as the spine’s shock absorbers. They can “burst” due to their softness and flexibility. When this happens to a disc it is called a prolapsed disc. The discs in the lower back (lumbar spine) and the neck (cervical spine) are made up of an inner jelly-like material called the nucleus. The nucleus is encircled by a thick cartilage called the annulus.

Causes of a Prolapsed Disc

A prolapsed disc is often described as a “slipped disc” a “herniated disc” or a “ruptured disc”. Spinal injury may cause a disc prolapse, but the most common cause is wear and tear, or disc degeneration. Disc degeneration starts as small cracks in the annulus or outer rings of the disc. Later, the gel-like nucleus pushes through the annulus, and puts pressure on the nerves, causing weakness, pain, and numbness in the legs.

A disc prolapse
MRI scan of a prolapsed disc

Other Risk Factors

Discs have a high water content while we are young but as we grow older, the water content lessens, affecting their flexibility. This causes them to shrink while bringing the vertebrae closer together. Smoking, sudden careless lifting, pressure, and repetitive strenuous activities may contribute to disc prolapse. Obesity is another risk factor as the excess body weight adds strain to the spine.

Signs and Symptoms of Disc Prolapse


When the nerves in the neck are compressed people often experience shooting pain in the neck and the trapezius muscles. This can radiate down the arm and may also cause headaches. Other symptoms include weakness and/or tingling in the arms and burning sensations.

Lower Back

The most common symptom of a slipped disc in the lower back is sciatica. This is often experienced pain, tingling, numbness, and/or weakness tin the back of the legs. Any stress on the spinal nerves can cause sciatica.

It does not automatically mean that you have a ruptured disc just because your have back pain or sciatica. It is always better to see a chiropractor, especially if an injury or fall has caused your symptoms. Patients often seek help for a prolapsed disc at our chiropractic clinics in Chester and North Wales. There are chiropractic adjustments designed specifically for prolapsed discs.

If you experience bowel or bladder incontinence with severe neck or low back pain, you should seek urgent medical help.


Part 2: Diagnosis and Treatment

To confirm the diagnosis of a disc herniation, chiropractors start by asking for your full medical history. It is important to tell him or her if you are having pain in the neck, back, arm or leg. You should also tell your chiropractor if you have had a recent injury.

Your chiropractor will perform a physical examination to find out which nerve roots have been affected and to determine the severity of the prolapse. He/she will test your reflexes, muscle strength, and sensation as well as checking for any signs of muscle wasting. Your chiropractor will also check your posture and palpate your spinal joints for areas of restriction.

We may order an x-ray as it can show evidence of changes in the spine and discs. We may also order other imaging studies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scan, and/or electromyography if the symptoms persist.

Prolapsed Disc

How Do you Treat a Prolapsed Disc?

Your chiropractor will decide how to treat you based on your lifestyle and symptoms. Chiropractic is a safe, non-surgical option. If we do not improve your symptoms we may consider referring your for surgical treatment.

Surgical Options

Surgery may be an option if you are experiencing a significant loss of function and pain. There are two main surgical options depending on the position and size of the disc prolapse; laminectomy and microdiscectomy, also called spinal decompression therapy.

Non-surgical Options

The following are some of the non-surgical treatment options that can help improve slipped disc symptoms. In most cases, non-surgical treatment is the first option, which is effective in not less than 90{b67a0f01f7b147b7e978da5adbadca47e09d0d78364efaa0732b6ae8d4f320dc} of patients.

  • Muscle relaxants, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), or analgesics can help to relieve the symptoms. For severe cases drugs such as amitriptyline are recommended.
  • You should apply cold compresses several times a day, for no longer than 20 minutes at a time. After the spasms have settled we recommend that you use heat.
  • Chiropractic treatment. Chiropractors perform low-force chiropractic adjustments especially designed for herniated discs. They also use a form of non-surgical spinal decompression therapy or traction.  Chiropractic treatment is one of the most effective and safest treatments for herniated discs.

If you want to fins out more about treatment options at our chiropractic clinics please call our clinic in Chester or North Wales.

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