Herniated Discs Can Make Life Difficult - PT Can Help

May 10th, 2022

Are You Living with a Herniated Disc?

Has anyone ever told you that they developed a "slipped disc"? This term is actually a misnomer, since discs do not necessarily "slip," but rather degenerate, bulge, or herniate. Luckily, a physical therapist can deal with this issue and help you find relief. Herniated discs occur when the outer layer of the disc tears. This allows the inner gel-like substance of the disc to leak out into the surrounding joint area. This can also cause the tissues to press on nearby structures, such as nerve roots and joint spaces.

If you've been experiencing back pain, there's a chance it could be caused by a herniated disc.

How can a physical therapist help with herniated disc pain?

According to SpineUniverse,

“Physical therapy often plays a major role in herniated disc recovery. Its methods not only offer immediate pain relief, but they also teach you how to condition your body to prevent further injury.

There are a variety of physiotherapy techniques. Passive treatments relax your body and include deep tissue massage, hot and cold therapy, electrical stimulation (eg, TENS), and hydrotherapy.”

Scientific evidence shows us that individualized physical therapy in addition to education and lifestyle advice is highly effective for reducing chronic back pain, including back pain caused by a herniated disc.

In fact, it's considered best practice to seek conservative treatment options like physical therapy long before undergoing any surgical intervention. Because physical therapy is non-invasive, it doesn't expose the patient to potential risks and adverse reactions of surgery, including opioid addiction, failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS), and post-operative pain, bleeding, and infection.

If you believe you have a herniated disc, we encourage you to see a physical therapist. He or she can perform various tests and assess your history to make or confirm a diagnosis, so you'll have a better understanding of what you're dealing with.

Then, he or she can prescribe customized interventions to alleviate your symptoms, heal the injured disc, and perhaps most importantly prevent recurring problems! Expect services such as:

  • Manual therapy, including massage and traction
  • Non-invasive modalities like electrical stimulation, cold laser therapy, and diathermy
  • Stretches to improve mobility elsewhere in the body, especially the shoulders and hips
  • Core stabilization exercises

Do you have any of these risk factors?

A herniated disc can happen to anyone, but you may be more at risk if you:

  • Have a family history of disc and spine problems
  • Are between the ages of 30 and 50
  • Are male
  • Are obese or overweight
  • Smoke
  • Suffered a traumatic event, such as a fall or auto accident
  • Have a physically demanding job
  • Do a lot of frequent bending, heavy lifting, or twisting
  • Sit a lot

Do you have any of these symptoms?

Not all herniated discs cause pain, and even if they do cause pain they won't all present in the same way. But there are some common signs and symptoms we see among our patients who come to us with this type of spinal condition.

They include:

  1. Pain that gets worse with certain movements. In many cases, forward flexion (bending forward in the spine) can cause a herniated disc to bulge even more out of place, which can increase pain or cause it to peripheralize (move farther down a limb). Meanwhile, backward extension (leaning backward in the spine) can cause the herniated disc to retract back into better alignment, which can decrease pain or cause it to centralize (move up a limb and closer to the spine).
  2. Weakness in an arm or leg. Again, this is caused by compression of a nerve root near the injured disc. Many people notice foot drop (an inability to flex their ankle up), weakened grip strength, or frequent tripping or "clumsiness."
  3. Pain, numbness, and tingling that radiates into an arm or leg. This happens if the herniated disc compresses a nearby spinal nerve root.
  4. Back pain and stiffness. This usually occurs right around the level of the herniated disc. There may also be overlying muscle spasms as a protective response.

Find relief today

If you’re living with a herniated disc, or if you think you might be, don’t hesitate to contact a physical therapist. We’ll help you find the relief you’ve been looking for!