Understanding your spine and the causes of disc injury

Having a basic understanding of your back including your spine and the DISCS that sit between each vertebra is crucial in helping you manage pain that may arise from disc injury.

The spine is made up of several areas which allows us to understand which part of the body it is located in. Each spinal vertebral area is designed differently to allow for the movements and actions that we can perform with our bodies.


The spine is has 7 Cervical Vertebrae, 12 Thoracic Vertebrae, 5 Lumbar Vertebrae, 5 Sacral Vertebrae (which are fused naturally in adults) and the coccyx as the tail bone. Each region has different sizes, shapes, angles of joints, and stresses and strains that are placed on it.

In between each vertebra there sits an INTERVERTEBRAL DISC. This acts as a shock absorber and separates the bones of the spinal column.

The disc itself is made up a gelatinous like material consisting of complex proteins that hold and absorb water, maintaining pressure in the disc itself.

The discs can be affected in a few different ways:

  • Bulging where part of the disc material protrudes out of the disc

  • Internal disruption within the disc

  • Desiccation or dehydration of the disc

  • Disc and associated spinal instability


These discs can suffer with “wear and tear” and become less hydrated and then decrease the size of the disc over time. When this occurs, the area of the spine often becomes less stable and increasingly stiff as a result. This may predispose the disc to further wear and tear and cause some pain.

When there is a more acute injury or build up of strain, bulging of the disc can occur which often causes acute pain, stiffness and may require medication and rest for immediate relief.

Osteopathic hands on treatment has shown to give our patients who suffer with both acute and chronic disc injury’s relief from pain, decrease muscle and joint spasm and tightness and increase their range of motion and flexibility. It also has helped in the long term management and psychological understanding of their back pain and why it may be happening, and what else they can do to manage it at home.


The most common areas which cause people pain and discomfort are the areas where the vertebrae change from one to the other, e.g, from the cervical to thoracic spine (base of neck to top of shoulder) and lumbar spine to sacral region (lower back to top of pelvis). These areas tend to have the greatest loads placed through them from everyday living, sitting, postural strains, muscle imbalances, weaknesses and underlying injuries.

Disc degeneration, bulging and instability is managed best with regular exercise such as swimming, walking, Pilates or gentle weights. It is also advised to avoid excessive bending lifting and twisting movements, sitting or standing for extended periods, and avoiding smoking and carrying excess weight.

Tips for helping relieve back pain, postural stain and tightness include:


• Stretch!

It sounds simple, but spending a few minutes several times a day stretching and loosening muscles that have been in a prolonged shortened position for a reasonable length of time makes a HUGE difference to your posture, muscle tightness and even fatigue levels.

Stretches include:

  • Hamstring (back of thigh)

  • Quadriceps (front of thigh)

  • Gluteal muscles (bottom muscles_

  • Hip Flexors (front of hip)

  • Pectoral muscles (chest/armpit region)

  • Neck muscles

Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds in a comfortable stretch – ie, not to pain, and remember to keep breathing while you are stretching. This will allow you to relax into the stretch and improve the tissue tension and tightness and allow for a release!

• Move!

Avoid being in the same position for more than 45 minutes. It is best to get up and down throughout the day. Take the stairs if you can, stand up and walk around while on the phone, get up to get water every hour (which means you’ll also need to use the restroom more too!). We weren’t designed to be sedentary so don’t let a desk bound job keep you that way!

• Exercise!

Gentle walking

  • Swimming, Hydrotherapy or even walking in the water – Any non- weight bearing activity in a pool, can help alleviate joint pain and muscle tightness, as well as help with aerobic fitness.

  • These help with muscle tone, strength, stability,

• Posture and Desk Ergonomics and Optimisation

Know how to improve it and create a more optimal postural awareness for your body.

  • Use a lumbar support

  • Use a foot stool

  • Have the computer screen at the appropriate height

  • Alternate with a standing desk and being seated

  • Have the correct desk chair

  • Have an ergonomic assessment by a qualified practitioner to help improve your desk set up and work station comfort

• Supplements

to help support your musculoskeletal system include:

  • Magnesium for muscle tightness, cramping and spasm

  • Fish Oil for anti-inflammatory effects

  • Turmeric for anti-inflammatory effects

• Use Heat or Ice pack

• Use a Spiky Ball or Tennis Ball and Foam Roller in muscles that are tight

The more you are aware of your body and movement that it allows you, the more empowered and in control you will feel with understanding what you can accomplish, both in activity, movements, and pain avoidance.

Osteopathy is a drug-free, non-invasive manual therapy that aims to improve health across all body systems by manipulating and strengthening the musculoskeletal framework.

An osteopathic physician will focus on the joints, muscles, and spine. Treatment aims to positively affect the body's nervous, circulatory, and lymphatic systems.

Manual medicine means that both diagnosis and treatment are carried out with the hands.

Osteopathy is a complementary therapy. It is used alongside conventional treatment to improve health. However, osteopathic physicians are also qualified as medical doctors (MDs), and they have more training than other complementary therapists, such as naturopaths. They specialize in osteopathy.

Osteopathy is one of the fastest growing healthcare professions in the United States (U.S.).

Fast facts about osteopathy

  • Osteopathy uses a drug-free, non-invasive form of manual medicine that focuses on the health of the whole body, not just the injured or affected part.

  • The osteopathic physician focuses on the joints, muscles, and spine.

  • Osteopathic intervention can help treat arthritisback painheadachestennis elbow, digestive issues, and postural problems.

  • Treatment can also assist with sleep cycles and the nervous, circulatory, and lymphatic symptoms.

What is osteopathy?

Osteopathy includes manipulation or joints to treat whole systems of the body.

Osteopathy takes a holistic, whole-body approach to healthcare.

It uses manual 'hands-on' techniques to improve circulation and correct altered biomechanics, without the use of drugs.

An osteopathic physician does not concentrate only on the problem area, but uses manual techniques to balance all the body systems, and to provide overall good health and wellbeing.

Diagnosing and treating conditions using these techniques is called Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM).

Techniques include stretching, gentle pressure, and resistance, known as osteopathic manipulative medicine.

An osteopathic physician may also issue prescription medicine and use surgical methods to support the holistic, manual treatment.

Many osteopathic physicians also serve as primary care physicians in fields such as family medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics.


Osteopathy can provide relief and treatment for a wide range of conditions.

These include:

  • arthritis

  • foot, ankle, hip, and knee pain

  • back pain, neck pain, and sciatica

  • hand, shoulder, and elbow pain

  • headaches

  • tennis and golfer's elbow

  • postural problems due to pregnancy, sports injury, driving or work strain, or digestive issues

  • neuralgia

Osteopathic physicians can also detect conditions that are not treatable through osteopathy, to refer patients to other specialists.

What to expect

An osteopath will first of all fully assess a patient's health to work out what treatment is needed in the sessions.

People visiting an osteopath should ensure that their doctor is accredited by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) and licensed to practice.

Ask to see this documentation if it is not already on display in their practice.

An individual may have a referral from a primary care physician, or they may refer themselves.

Self-referring patients should inform their regular doctor, to ensure that ongoing care is consistent.

Osteopathy is patient-centered. An initial consultation will take place before any active treatment or management begins.

During this consultation, the osteopathic physician will discuss the patient's health problems, listen, and take case notes. The session will last approximately 45 minutes.

Physical examination

The osteopathic physician will physically examine the patient, who may need to remove some clothing to carry out the diagnosis. Patient privacy should be respected during this process.

The examination may take 1 to 2 hours.

The patient will be asked to demonstrate simple stretches and movements to help the osteopathic physician make an accurate analysis of their posture and mobility.

The doctor will also assess the health of the joints, ligaments, and tissues, using a highly trained technique of touch known as palpation.

The osteopathic physician will propose a treatment plan to meet the patient's needs.

This will include the number of sessions likely to be needed, although this number may change depending on the patient's response to treatment.

Osteopathy emphasizes self-healing, so an osteopathic physician may also advise dietary changes, home exercise programs, and lifestyle adjustments.

The manipulation and hands-on work are gentle, but due to the physical work being carried out, a patient of osteopathy may feel sore for the first 24 to 48 hours.

What will it cost?

The cost will vary, depending on the clinic, the insurance plan the patient has, and the state in which they live. Many insurance plans will fund osteopathy for appropriate conditions.

It is worth asking the insurer if there is a limit per session or an overall limit for outpatient complementary therapies.

Is an osteopathic physician the same as a chiropractor?

A chiropractor can also treat the back, but their focus is more likely to be on the position of the spine and joints, with the aim of improving nerve function and healing ability.

A chiropractor is more likely to "pop" or "crack" the joints. An osteopathic physician does not usually do this. A chiropractor will focus on a specific problem area, while an osteopath looks at the body as a whole. An Osteopathic physician is a medical doctor with specialized training in the fast-growing approach to healing and wellness.


Osteopathy can benefit the musculoskeletal framework and other systems.

Osteopathy and back pain

Many people approach an osteopathic physician with back pain, but preventive treatment is also possible.

Today's increasingly sedentary lifestyle means that the average American will spend over href="http://edition.cnn.com/2016/06/30/health/americans-screen-time-nielsen/index.html" target="_blank">10.5 hours per day in front of a screen. This can lead to poor posture and musculoskeletal problems.

Treatment involves gentle and subtle manipulation, especially of the muscles and soft tissues. The doctor may stretch or massage the muscle.

If there are signs of a displaced disk or other serious condition, the osteopathic physician may recommend doing some imaging tests and direct the patient toward conventional treatment.

An osteopathic physician can help prevent problems by pinpointing potential sources of referred pain in good time.

They may suggest dietary modifications and changes to workplace ergonomics, such as seating and desk position.

Prevention advice can involve:

  • stretching exercises

  • lifting techniques

  • posture

  • breathing

  • stress reduction

These techniques can help improve posture and reduce pain. Learning to lift with the legs, or example, and to stretch before exercise can reduce injury.

Lifestyle changes can dramatically improve health and reduce ongoing health risks and costs.

Preventing injury means more time keeping active, less time off work, and freedom to enjoy the benefits of healthful living.

Osteopathy and sleep

Osteopathy can help a person sleep when chronic pain has been causing insomnia.

Pain and discomfort can lead to a lack of sleep or restless nights.

This can make it harder for the body to function adequately, and reduce the ability to cope with pain.

Osteopathy has been shown to reduce sleeplessness and insomnia resulting from chronic pain.

Studies have shown that osteopathic treatment can reduce sleep apnea in infants under 4 months old, but further research is needed to confirm this.

Other body systems

Osteopathic treatments can positively impact the nervous, circulatory, and lymphatic systems, to improve body function and overall health.

Some osteopathic techniques may enhance lymphatic health and bring about internal improvements in the body without needing invasive surgical treatment.


As with all treatments, osteopathy can involve some risks.

After treatment, it is common for a patient to feel stiff, rather like after exercising, for 24 to 48 hours. Some patients may have a headache for a short while.

Older patients may experience less common side effects, include severe pain, rib fracture in patients with osteoporosis, numbness, and tingling.

If these occur, the patient should speak to their osteopath or their physician.

More severe adverse effects may need emergency medical treatment.

These include stroke, prolapsed disk, pain radiating to a limb, nerve damage, muscle weakness, and bladder or bowel problems.

Most of these risks are rare, but patients should be aware of them before they begin treatment.

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