Experts estimate that as many as eight out of 10 people will suffer lower back pain at some point in their lives. Usually, the discomfort is caused by lifestyle—sitting at a desk too long, being overweight, getting too little exercise, and even sleeping on a bad mattress. But other times, the pain is caused by a herniated disk, which generally responds well to non-surgical treatment.
The spine has 26 separate bones called vertebrae that enable you to stand upright, twist, and bend. It also protects the spinal cord. Each vertebra is shaped like a ring but there are different types of vertebrae in the spine that do different jobs. The top seven vertebrae are called the cervical vertebrae and they support your head and neck. Below the cervical vertebrae are the 12 thoracic vertebrae, which anchor the ribs in place. The next five are the lumbar vertebrae, after which is the sacrum, made up of five vertebrae fused together to form one single bone. Lastly, at the bottom of the spine is the coccyx, or tail bone, which is comprised of four fused vertebrae.
The lower sections of the spine are designed to be weight bearing, enabling humans to stand, walk upright, and keep their balance. In between each vertebra are small disks made of cartilage, which keep the vertebrae from rubbing against one another and act as the spine’s natural shock absorbers, preventing damage during movement. A disk is herniated when it pushes against its outer ring, which can be caused by external force, such as a sport injury or car accident, or general wear. That condition results in lower back pain.
There is no single, standard treatment protocol for herniated disks, so a chiropractor determines the treatment based upon the individual case and on factors such as how long the condition has been present, how severe the pain is, and the age and health of the patient. Normally, though, treatment starts with non-invasive options that include physical therapy, injections, manual chiropractic manipulation, or prescription drugs. If the condition persists with little relief, then surgery might be considered.