Chiropractic and Disc HerniationsIntegrating Chiropractors

Today we’re going to kick around information on disc herniations, disc bulging, and radiculopathy as a result. Is there anything we can do about it? Well, I’m a chiropractic advocate and research backs us on it so I’ll say, “Hell yes.” Come along with us, won’t you?


First, I feel some sweet sweet bumper music moving in….


OK, we are back. Welcome to the podcast today, I’m Dr. Jeff Williams and I’m your host for the Chiropractic Forward podcast.


Now that I have you here, I want to ask you to go to chiropracticforward.comand sign up for our newsletter. It makes it easier to let you know when the newest episode goes live and it makes me feel good. Don’t you like to make people feel good? Of course, you do so….do it do it.


Also, our group on Facebook. It’s called the Chiropractic Forward Group and I think that’s as appropriate of a name as I could come up with. Lol. Just in case you didn’t know, there’s the page on Facebook. That’s for getting the word out and telling people about the podcast. Then there’s the private group. That’s for interacting with each other, learning from each other, posting new papers when they come out, and maybe organizing into a powerful group someday, somewhere down the line. That sort of deal must grow organically. It can’t be forced so we won’t try to do that.


We’ll just let you all know about its existence and hope to start seeing you over there. Let’s start a conversation outside of the podcast!


We are honored to have you listening. Now, here we go with some vital information that we think can build confidence and improve your practice which will improve your life overall.


You have back-flipped head-on into Episode #35


Before we talk about all of the disc herniations stuff, I want to tell you all about my weekend. I spent Saturday and part of Sunday morning with my butt firmly planted in a chair in a hotel conference room listening to Dr. Brandon Steele talk about shoulder issues. He was the teacher as his company ChiroUp was a sponsor of the event but he was there teaching as part of the DACO program which is run by the University of Bridgeport.


What the heck is DACO right? Well, what used to be called DABCO is now called a DACO which stands for Diplomate of American Chiropractic Orthopedists. I have mentioned before where I sat through the first 10 DACO hours back in June. That was over the low back. These ten were over the shoulder. Topics covered included Scapular Dyskinesis. I knew nothing of this mess and, I already identified and started working with one of these patients the day after I got home. We also covered shoulder impingement, rotator cuff issues, thoracic outlet syndrome, and adhesive capsulitis to name a few.


Good stuff all around and, even if I don’t go all the way through the DACO program, I get better and better every time I take a class. And not just better. I get exponentially better.


In talking with Dr. Steele this weekend, he agreed to come on to the podcast as a guest. We’ll get that all lined up. I have a ton of questions for him. Some questions about the DACO program, some about ChiroUp (it’s really a game-changer and you better use my name if you sign on!!!), and I want to ask him about practice standardization and some things along those lines. It should be a fun conversation so make sure you keep your eyes out for it in the near future.


I encourage you…..a lot of what we talk about here is integrating with the medical community and really stepping up. Part of that is taking the steps to get educated at higher and higher levels. The DACO is in line with that. I have zero association with the people running it other than the fact that I love the product they have created and use it regularly. There is nothing in it as far as reimbursement goes. I just believe in what they’re doing. I encourage you all to look into this DACO program. If you don’t know where to start, just email me at and I’ll get you pointed in the right direction.


Now, on to disc herniations


Have you ever been told we can’t do anything for discs? Have you been told to not adjust if they have a low back disc issue? Do you know how to recognize a disc issue? What’s the best way to treat it? So many questions!!

Here’s the deal for me today. I’m no guru. I’m going to throw research on you but in the end, a lot of it is just experience. So, don’t take my word as the gold standard. I didn’t expect you to anyway but, I wanted to be sure. Lol.


Let’s look first at recognizing disc herniations. There are some simple questions that can get you moving in the right direction on this:

  • Do you have static position irritation meaning, do you have to move around in your chair often to get comfortable?
  • Do you have pain going from seated to standing?
  • Is there a positive Milgram’s
  • How about a positive Modified Slump test?
  • Valsalva’s is part of that but some do it separately.
  • Same with SLR. I was taught that pain on SLR in the first 30 degrees, when the nerve is first tensioned, was indicative of a disc issue but the DACO folks say it’s between 30 and 70 degrees.
  • Worst position is seated
  • Best is lying down
  • Deep buttock pain
  • Pain in the first 1/3 of trunk flexion or trunk extension that cannot be alleviated by bracing or tightening a belt around the waist.
  • Radiating pain into the leg
  • As a general rule of thumb, the further pain radiates beyond the knee, the more likely it is caused by a disc.
  • Sometime you’ll encounter diminished reflexes or differences in sensory or motor information from side to side.


When should we get an MRI for disc herniations and other issues? Red flags like the history of cancer, fever, chills, recent unexplained weight loss, immunosuppression, and corticosteroid use give you a reason. Symptoms lasting longer than 6 weeks or symptoms showing progressive neurological deficit also give you a reason to get that MRI.


What can we do about it?

Again, that’s going to depend on who you ask. Are we going by The Lancet? Why not go by some chiropractic gurus? We can go by the medical fields recommendation or by physical therapists techniques? I say yes, yes, and yes.


I had a neurosurgeon buddy of mine tell me, whatever the hell works without doing surgery… that. I agree. That’s why we are friends coincidentally.


So, knowing all of that, I’m going to tell you what has been effective for me in my practice. The first thing is something that the insurance companies call experimental and investigational. I think they’re full of it. They don’t seem to be in any hurry to pick up new services to have to pay for, do they? But you know what? I’d rather them NOT cover it so we can actually get paid what it is worth.


What I’m talking about here is decompression for disc herniations. This was a game-changer for me in my practice. I have three short stories for you here. They all have to do with guys I tried to send to the surgeon. I’m not going into why we ordered the MRIs or the exam findings. It would take too long for this format so we’re going to jump to the chase in each of their cases.


  1. The first is a dude was in town visiting for work and was only going to be here for a few months before returning home. The MRI showed us that his disc herniations was 14 mm caudal migration. I sent him straight to the surgeon. The surgeon set him up for surgery in 6 weeks. The guy was on board with having surgery but couldn’t wait 6 weeks for some kind of relief. Any kind of relief. He begged me to do decompression. I figured that we could go light. In the end, it’s traction and he had no contraindications to decompression so we did it. This guy was back to working and dancing around in the office in about a week and a half y’all. If you want to say it’s placebo, that’s OK, we’re just going to disagree. If you want to say people just like to be touched and I could have pulled on his big toe and it may have had the same effect, I’m going to tell you to jump in a lake.
  2. The second was a guy that was a truck driver. He was in his 70’s and had had heart surgeries and was on blood thinners. He was a physical wreck honestly. When he came in, he was in a wheelchair and unable to work or function. I got an MRI and his herniation was posterior with 18 mm of caudal migration. That used to be a ticket to the surgeon so off he went. Well, his cardiologist would not take him off of the blood thinners so surgery was out of the question. He came back to me just like the other case we discussed. He had no other options and would I please do decompression on him to try to get him some relief. It had been going for quite some time. OK, sure. I’m a nice guy but I told him, I doubt it’s going to help something like you have going on. Yeah, yeah, yeah, hook me up, please. So we did. Guess what? He came in just a time or two later on a walker instead of a wheelchair. Then, a week or so later, he came in without a walker. Then a month or two down the road, he got a new job and was out there telling everyone that would listen about what we were able to do for him. You can take a long walk off a short pier if you’re going to suggest that was anything other than significant effects due to direct intervention.
  3. Last and worst of all disc herniations I’ve ever seen. He is actually a good friend of mine. He came in with numbness and weakness all the way into his foot. Limping, the whole deal. He worked in a warehouse and would have to be forklifted to the second floor where his office is because he couldn’t get there any other way. He thinks it was due to a motorcycle wreck several years ago. Whatever the cause, it was pretty crazy. His MRI showed disc herniations of 23mm of caudal migration. Almost all the way down to the next disc below. I had never seen that before and haven’t seen it since. I, of course, told him he needed to go to the surgeon muy pronto. He agreed but his wife, bless her heart, did not. And thank goodness. She was adamant about him not going to the surgeon. She strongly urged him to not go until he at least gave decompression a try. I told him about the first two cases we just talked about but that he was really in a different ballpark than those guys and I really didn’t know how I could help at all. They understood but decided to give it a go anyway. And thank God they did. Sometimes our patients teach us instead of us teaching them, don’t they? It took a couple of months but he started to turn around and never had that surgery. I just checked with him the other day, 2 years later, and he’s doing great. He said he has a little numbness in the outside of his foot but nothing bad and nothing he can’t handle. All’s well and guess who the hero is? Well….his wife. She’s the hero. Lol. I’m still the buddy and buddies can’t be heroes.


These are the worst of the worst disc herniations but what about all of the others that were more minor disc herniations? Think of all of the successes we have had with disc herniations over the years. When I say it’s a game-changer, I damn well mean it and, once again, I care not what insurance companies have to say about it.


Let’s look at some papers on it.


This one is called “Simple pelvic traction gives inconsistent relief to herniated lumbar disc sufferers” by Edward Eyerman, MD. It was published in the Journal of Neuroimaging in June of 1998[1].


Why They Did It

The aim was to do before and after MRIs to correlate improvement in the clinic with MRI evidence in terms of disc herniations repair in the annulus, nucleus, facet joint, or in the foramen as a result of decompression treatment.


Eyerman was testing the effectiveness of decompression in a sample of 12 men and 8 women aged 26-74. No, not a big sample.

His MRI finding was as follows:

Disc Herniations: 10 of 14 improved significantly, some globally, some at least locally at the site of the nerve root compression.

Measured improvement in local or general disc herniation size varied in the range of 0% in 2 patients, 20% in 4 patients, 30% to 50% in 4 patients and a remarkable 90 % in 2 patients that did all 40 sessions.

As far as clinical outcomes of the subjects go, he noted that all but 3 patients had very significant pain relief, complete relief of weakness when present, and of immobility and of all numbness except for in 1 patient with herniation and 2 with foraminal stenosis without herniation.

Summed up, he said “Serial MRI imaging of 20 patients treated with the decompression table shows in our study up to 90% reduction of subligamentous nucleus herniation in 10 of 14. Some rehydration occurs detected by T2 and proton density signal increase. Torn annulus repair is seen in all. Transligamentous ruptures show lesser repair. Facet arthrosis can be shown to improve chiefly by pain relief.

Then we have this one by Thomas Gionis, MD published in the Orthopedic Technology Review in December of 2003[2].

They concluded, “Results showed that 86% of the 219 patients who completed the therapy reported immediate resolution of symptoms, while 84% remained pain-free 90 days post-treatment. Physical examination findings showed improvement in 92% of the 219 patients, and remained intact in 89% of these patients 90 days after treatment.”

When is surgery necessary? Well, that’s going to depend on who you ask but a good general rule I follow is that cauda equina syndrome is a quick trip to a surgeon. I personally don’t like foot drop and am likely to send to a surgical consult. I think any progressive worsening of neuro symptoms is cause to pause and reconsider whatever you’re doing. If what you’re doing ain’t fixing it, change directions.


But there is this paper I found interesting. It’s from 2010 and called “Spontaneous Regression for a Large Lumbar Disc Extrusion[3]” by Ryu Sung-Joo, MD and was published online for the Journal of Korean Neurosurgical Society. I have no idea what the quality of this journal is or what the impact is but it’s interesting and I’ve seen studies before about spontaneous resolution of disc herniations.


The authors say, “Although the spontaneous disappearance or decrease in the size of a herniated disc is well known, that of a large extruded disc has rarely been reported. This paper reports a case of a spontaneous regression of a large lumbar disc extrusion. The disc regressed spontaneously with clinical improvement and was documented on a follow-up MRI study 6 months later.”


The case report was on a 53-year-old female after 6 months of low back pain and left lateral leg pain with numbness. Y’all go to the show notes and get the reference to this paper. The MRI images are great.


They mention, “After conservative treatment, her clinical symptoms subsided gradually but the numbness of her left lateral leg still remained. A second MRI study performed approximately 6 months after the prior examination reveals almost complete disappearance of the extruded fragment that had been located posterolateral to the L5 vertebral body and no evidence of compression or displacement of the dural sac or nerve root.” Wowza.


They go on to explain, “Our patient is an example of the resolution of a large protruded disc without surgery. This phenomenon may be due in part to the fact that larger fragments have a higher water content8) and may regress through dehydration/shrinkage, retraction, and inflammation-mediated resorption.” Meaning….her body ate it and it went bye bye.


They finished up the paper by saying, “Even in patients with large lumbar disc extrusion, non-surgical conservative care can be considered as an option for the treatment when radiculopathy is acceptable and neurological deficit is absent.“

That’s pretty cool. I don’t think surgeons are going to want to hear it but it’s cool. If all they can do is surgery on cauda equina or foot drop, they’re going to have a hard time financially.


Alright, moving beyond decompression or spontaneous resorption, what else can we do?


Here’s one I got from Dr. Tim Bertlesman. It was authored by G McMorland and called “Manipulation or microdiskectomy for sciatica? A prospective randomized clinical study[4].” This one was published in the Journal of Manipulative Physiology and Therapeutics in 2010 and goes like this. The authors concluded, “Sixty percent of patients with sciatica who had failed other medical management benefited from spinal manipulation to the same degree as if they underwent surgical intervention. Of the 40% left unsatisfied, subsequent surgical intervention confers excellent outcome. Patients with symptomatic LDH failing medical management should consider spinal manipulation followed by surgery if warranted.“


Go check it out in the show notes if you want the nuts and bolts and bells and whistles, please.


Then there are your directional preferences exercises. If you have not familiarized yourself with directional preferences, please do so yesterday. They are based upon the idea of centralization and peripheralization. McKenzie’s program uses it, the CRISP protocol uses it, Kennedy’s decompression system uses it, and the DACO program teaches it. Do you see a pattern of some sort emerging here?


Other things that are helpful are exercise recommendations like McKenzie or Williams exercises depending on the directional preference, core building.


These patients also need strong at-home suggestions like:

  • Get an inversion table for the house.
  • Get back to work as soon as possible
  • Don’t lay up in bed hoping it goes away
  • Sleep correctly
  • Work advice like get up and walk every 45 minutes or so
  • Don’t use catastrophic language and make sure they know it’s not a disease and most disc cases resolve


I don’t have all of the answers but, I’m guessing none of you do either. In the end, it’s experience, isn’t it? For example, without experience, I wouldn’t have known that it COULD be possible to help three guys with caudal migration of a disc from 14mm all the way up to 23mm. Nothing but experience can show someone that.


While we don’t know it all, we DO find means that are effective and help us get the job done and make a difference in our patients’ lives. That’s for sure.

This week, I want you to go forward with the knowledge that, in case you didn’t already know it, you’re powerful. You can take disc herniations that used to be sent straight to surgery and you can treat that complaint with safe, conservative, non-invasive, and non-pharmacologic means. That’s a hell of a deal right there, folks.


We’re not done talking about disc herniations, decompression, and all of that fun stuff. There’s too much left in the tank to be done but, in the interest of time, we’ll get to it on another episode.


Integrating Chiropractors


I want you to know with absolute certainty that when Chiropractic is at its best, you can’t beat the risk vs reward ratio because spinal pain is a mechanical pain and responds better to mechanical treatment instead of chemical treatments.


The literature is clear: research and experience show that, in 80%-90% of headaches, neck, and back pain, patients get good to excellent results when compared to usual medical care and it’s safe, less expensive, and decreases chances of surgery and disability. It’s done conservatively and non-surgically with little time requirement or hassle for the patient. If done preventatively going forward, we can likely keep it that way while raising overall health! At the end of the day, patients have the right to the best treatment that does the least harm and THAT’S Chiropractic, folks.


Send us an email at dr dot williams at chiropracticforward.comand let us know what you think of our show or tell us your suggestions for future episodes. Feedback and constructive criticism is a blessing and so are subscribes and excellent reviews on iTunes and other podcast services. Y’all know how this works by now so help if you don’t mind taking a few seconds to do so.


Being the #1 Chiropractic podcast in the world would be pretty darn cool.


We can’t wait to connect with you again next week. From the Chiropractic Forward Podcast flight deck, this is Dr. Jeff Williams saying upward, onward, and forward.




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  1. Eyerman E, e.a., MRI Evidence of Nonsurgical, Mechanical Reduction, Rehydration and Repair of the herniated Lumbar Disc.J Neuro Imaging, 1998. 8(2).
  2. Gionis T, Surgical Alternatives: Spinal Decompression.Orthopedic Technology Review, 2003. 6(5).
  3. Ryu Sung-Joo, Spontaneous Regression of a Large Lumbar Disc Extrusion.J Korean Neurosurg Soc., 2010. 48(3): p. 285-287.
  4. McMorland G, Manipulation or microdiskectomy for sciatica? A prospective randomized clinical study. J Manipulative Physiol Ther, 2010. 33(8): p. 576-584.


CF 027: WANTED – Safe, Nonpharmacological Means Of Treating Spinal Pain

CF 025: Vets With Low Back Pain. Usual Care + Chiropractic vs. Usual Care Alone

CF 026: Chiropractic Better Than Physical Therapy and Usual Medical Care For Musculoskeletal Issues Adolphus Washington Womens Jersey

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