Overcoming Lumbar Disc Herniations

A herniated disc refers to a problem with one of the intervertebral discs between the individual vertebrae that stack up to make your spine.

An analogy can be made between a  spinal disc and a jelly donut.  Both have a softer center encased within a tougher exterior.  Sometimes called a slipped disk or a ruptured disk, a herniated disk occurs when some of the softer “jelly” pushes out through a tear in the tougher exterior.

A herniated disk can irritate nearby nerves and result in pain, numbness or weakness in an arm or leg. On the other hand, many people experience no symptoms from a herniated disk.  In some rare cases, a severe herniation that occurs in the lower levels of the spine and result in bowel or bladder dysfunction or numbness in the groin and saddle area.  However, disc herniations are very common and most people who have a herniated disc don’t need surgery to correct the problem.

The pain can vary widely, from a mild ache to a sharp, burning sensation or excruciating pain. Sometimes it can feel like a jolt or electric shock.  It can be worse when you cough or sneeze, and prolonged sitting can aggravate symptoms.  Some people also have numbness, tingling or muscle weakness in the affected leg or foot. You might have pain in one part of your leg and numbness in another part.

Some movements and that can be painful with herniated discs include descending into a squat, deadlift, or lunge.  In addition, prolonged sitting or a slumped posture may be painful.

In our physical therapy office, the first recommendation that we usually make is to take a short break from the aggravating activity. This allows for an environment for the inflammation to settle down and the herniation to heal. While taking a break usually helps with pain, we know for our patients to get back to the activities that they enjoy, we have to address the root of the issue.

In many cases, disc herniations is correlated with poor mobility of the hip muscles and the lumbar spine. This can be combined with weakness of the core, lower back, and gluteal muscles. In addition, if there are technique errors with exercise, this may lead to faulty spine mechanics. However, the only way to know what is contributing to pain and injury is to perform a complete assessment.

When pain and stiffness is found via the assessment, our approach includes manual mobilization to alleviate pain and improve mobility. Improvements can be made very quickly if the right regions are targeted. If weakness is found, we teach activation exercises to help our clients better engage muscles that are not firing well.  Extension based movements can be very effective for addressing pain that radiates down the extremities.  Once pain is controlled and muscles engage better, our next step is teaching our patients to develop stability of the hips and spine with resistance exercise.

When addressed with a through physical therapy assessment and plan of care, disc herniations  can resolve relatively quickly. However, ignoring symptoms and continuing with repetitive activity with poor mechanics can develop into a more serious issue. If you feel like you may be developing a disc problem, the physical therapists at Movement Solutions would be glad to provide a through assessment and give you a diagnosis for your condition. We are available for a free 15-minute phone consultation to talk about how your pain is affecting you and discuss your treatment options. Call us at (864)558-7346 and ask how we can help.

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