So you’ve been told you that you have a slipped disc in your back or neck. What is it, and what can you do about it? Can massage help with the pain?

“Slipped disc” is a bit of a misnomer. The shock-absorbing discs between your vertebrae are tightly woven into the structure of your spine, and they can’t actually slip out. They can, however, bulge or herniate. These discs of cartilage have a soft center (try not to think of jelly donuts) that can become displaced due to a sudden trauma such as a car accident, or due to normal degeneration over time. This is visible on x-rays, and is often blamed for all manner of neck, back, and hip pain.

Something to keep in mind is that slipped discs are as normal as wrinkles. Studies of people without pain have shown that a large proportion of individuals (sometimes as many as half) have a bulging or herniated disc that causes no symptoms, with that proportion going up as you age. While disc disorders can cause pain by pressing on a nerve or increasing local inflammation, they’re often asymptomatic.

Even if your slipped disc is a direct cause of your pain, it’s probably not the only cause. There’s usually muscular involvement as well, which is why exercise, stretching, and massage can help. While they won’t be able to un-bulge the disc (your body tends to take care of that over the course of a few weeks or months), they can reduce the inflammation in the area, calm the muscles that are in spasm, and help you get comfortable again.

When a client comes in with a slipped disc that they blame for their sciatica pain, I almost always find tight hip muscles. When they have disc problems in their neck, I typically find tight neck muscles. We can relieve your pain by soothing those local muscles and reducing spasm, allowing your nerves more “room to breathe.” Between regular massage at my office and easy stretches that you can do at home, we should be able to get you out of a state of crisis in a few short weeks. While total pain resolution is the end goal, that may take a while longer.

Note: If the disc herniation is due to a recent trauma or is newly diagnosed, please discuss massage with your doctor before coming to see me. In most cases, my gentle style of myofascial release will be able to work with the area in a way that is pain-free.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you soon!