Q: I have a back problem and my neighbor thinks that it is the same problem he had: A disc injury that forced him to have surgery. Could a chiropractor fix a disc problem? Should I talk to a chiropractor before or along with my primary doctor?
A: Discs are the cushions — shock absorbers, if you will — that sit between each of the vertebrae that make up the spine. Discs can become damaged over time, or as the result of a trauma like a fall or a work-related injury. Many people assume the only treatment for a painful disc injury is surgery. The fact is, however, that very few disc injuries actually require surgery. In most cases, the pain can be eliminated or greatly eased with chiropractic treatment, as well as other conservative and noninvasive procedures. Know that when a disc is damaged enough, there really is no “fixing it.” Its tissues will never be the same as before the injury. The goal is to heal it as much as it can be healed and with as little residual pain or problems as possible. You don’t have to live with the pain for the rest of your life if you manage it and treat it well.
Treatment can range from something as simple as applying ice to reduce pain and inflammation, to more complex steps like traction therapy to reduce disc bulging, and spinal adjustment to restore joint mobility. A chiropractor may recommend an overall exercise regimen to improve flexibility and strength. A change in your posture and/or activities or the way you perform them may also significantly ease your problem. Bracing — or using the right type of back brace — can be of huge benefit in allowing the disc to heal without surgery.
If your disc condition is indeed one of the rare ones that requires surgery, your chiropractor is the best person to help you with a referral. Typically we DCs understand how to communicate with a neurosurgeon very well and talk with them about when is the right type of disc injury and the right time to consider surgery.
But whether it’s a problem with your back or some other part of your body, check all your options — and particularly chiropractic care — before deciding on surgery. My opinion is biased, of course, but I think a good chiropractor is certainly the best caregiver to manage your back issues; whether or not we lead you to surgery. We will know the most conservative way to handle it early on and, if needed, we will lead you to the right doctor who can perform a surgery.
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