Mechanical problems are the simplest and make up the majority. The spinal vertebrae have two small guiding joints between each pair of vertebrae. These are the size of our knuckle joints but are flat sliding joints. They are commonly strained in the low back by a combined bending and twisting movement. The sort of movement you do if you drop your keys on the floor and reach down quickly with one hand. The joint when it is strained may either swell up or lock. If it locks there will be dull pain and stiffness particularly on bending getting out of a bed or chair. Osteopaths can quickly release the locking with manipulation which releases the joint often with a small pop. If the joint swells the pain is much sharper and the body wants to relieve the pressure on the swelling so you usually bend forwards and away from the pain. The swelling usually takes 3-5 days to reduce with rest , ice packs and gentle movement. Once the swelling is gone the joint will lock up and need releasing. Another common mechanical problem is locking of the sacro-iliac or pelvic joint. These joints can become locked if jarred heavily either by falling or missing a step or curb. Osteopaths are able to free this joint again and restore its normal function.
Disc problems occur when a tear developes in the wall of the disc between our vertebrae. The disc is like a jam donut with a thick wall and a soft centre. If the wall develops a tear the jam presses against the wall and the wall often bulges out. Disc problems are very common but frequently cause no pain. Most people have them without knowing as the inside of the disc does not have any pain sensation. However if the bulge presses on one of the adjacent nerves this will produce pain often in the leg and may be associated with pins and needles , numbness or muscle weakness. Osteopaths can’t mend the tears but the body is very clever and will do so given the right encouragement. Osteopaths help by giving you advice on the best management. They help by reducing any protective muscle pain and ensure the spine stays flexible, to improve the speed of repair which normally takes 12 weeks.
It is important to note that not all leg pain is produced by disc injuries. Simple mechanical problems will sometimes produced referred pain into the legs. This is just the body being confused and feeling the pain in the wrong place. Usually this type of pain is not accompanied by changes in sensation or muscle strength.