“I think I slipped a disc. I just need an adjustment to put it back…”
What exactly is a “slipped disc”, and can the discs in your back actually slip out of place?
The answer? Yes and no, but it mainly revolves around what you are referring to.
Can a disc slip out of place and then be “popped” back into place with an adjustment? No.
Neither the squishy shock-absorbing material in-between vertebrae (often referred to simply as a “disc”) nor the vertebrae itself can be pushed with any amount of force to re-locate something that has suddenly come out of place. If the vertebrae (the bones that make up your spinal column) were able to dislodge or slip out of place, it would result in paralysis, as those vertebrae would sever the spinal cord. When vertebrae dislocate or come out of place, this is usually the result of a catastrophic event, like a motor vehicle accident.
So what can slip?
The discs in your back are made up of two parts. The outer ring is a tough ligamentous tissue that anchors itself to the vertebrae above and below the disc. The inner core is a softer material called the nucleus pulpous. There are times where the tougher outer ring can tear, resulting in the softer inner core to protrude through. This results in a herniated disc. This protruding disc material can impinge the spinal cord or nerves depending on their location, resulting in severe, shooting, or tingling pain.
Disc herniations can improve, but the course of treatment often involves coaxing the soft inner core back into place with a series of rehab exercises, spinal decompression, or spinal adjustments. In each of these cases, the goal is to achieve proper mobility and function which will in turn help to reabsorb the disc material. Typically, disc herniations are not something that occur overnight, and then resolve within a day or two. The recovery process is several weeks, to months at a time depending on the severity.
In short, can a disc slip?
No, but there are times were parts of the inner core of the disc can herniate or protrude. In either case, a simple adjustment won’t pop something back into place to relieve symptoms.
Patients typically use the term “slipped disc” to explain to us, “my back hurts, and you need to work your magic to make me feel better”. We usually know what you mean when you tell us this happens, but hopefully you know more about it too.
– Dr. Thomas Iggulden
St. Catharines and Beamsville Chiropractor at Cornerstone Therapy and Wellness (Physiotherapy, Massage Therapy)