Overcoming Disc Herniations of the Lumbar Spine

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.

Pain from disc herniations varies 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, bending, prolonged sitting, or a slumped posture may be painful as well.

The first common sense recommendation to alleviating pain related to a herniated disc is to take a short break from aggravating activity. This allows inflammation and/or irritation to settle down. If pain is stubborn, hands-on therapy can be implemented to get faster pain relief. Self soft-tissue mobilization (SMR) can also be performed using a lacrosse ball or foam roller. Extension based movements can be very effective for addressing pain that radiates down the extremities.  When pain has subsided, the next step is to address the root cause of pain so you can eventually get back into activity.

In many cases, disc herniations are 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, technique errors with exercise may lead to faulty spine mechanics. The best way to know what is contributing to pain is to have a movement assessment performed.

If there is underlying weakness, learning activation exercises to engage muscles that are not firing well is key.  Once muscles engage properly, the next step is learning how to create stability and tension in the hips and trunk under load. Once you can do this, a steady progression with increasing resistance while maintaining proper technique can keep the spine healthy for the foreseeable future.

When addressed with a specialized physical therapy plan of care, you can overcome disc herniations without medications, injections, or surgery. However, ignoring symptoms or continued repetitive activity with poor technique may result in a more serious back problem. If you have concerns about the disc herniations, the physical therapists at Movement Solutions would be glad to be a resource for you.

When addressed with a specialized physical therapy program, overcoming disc herniations are possible.  However, ignoring pain may result in a more serious spine condition.  If you have concerns about disc herniations, the physical therapists at Movement Solutions would be glad to be a resource for you.

We have a free guide on relieving back pain that can give you further insight into back problems and help kickstart your recovery.  We are available for a free 15-minute phone consultation to talk about how your pain is affecting you and discuss your treatment options.

If you’re considering physical therapy, we offer a limited number of free Discovery Visits at our office.  This is an opportunity to ask questions, obtain clarity about your back pain, and foster confidence that we can help you.

If you’re in pain and unsure about what your next steps should be, call us at (864) 558-7346 and ask how we can help.

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