Physical Therapy Of Melissa

Herniated Discs Understanding

Avoid these five running mistakes during 5k season

Living with back pain can be aggravating, especially when it appears that nothing you do helps. It could be that a herniated disc is the culprit of your pain and discomfort.

If this is the case, a physical therapist can help you feel better and even help the injured disc heal. If you’re concerned about your back pain symptoms, please call our clinic to schedule an appointment.

Herniated Discs, Defined

A herniated disc happens when the gel-like core inside a spinal disc leaks out through a small tear in the disc’s outer layer. We often compare it to jelly leaking out of a jelly donut! When this happens, the injured disc tissue can irritate or compress nearby spinal nerves or joint structures and may cause pain and other symptoms.

Herniated discs are most common among men between 35 and 55 years old, although they can occur to anyone, especially if they have herniated disc risk factors such as:

  • Working a physically demanding job and/or frequent exposure to vibration, heavy lifting, or twisting and bending
  • Smoking habit
  • Obesity
  • Family history
  • Sedentary behavior

Herniated discs can develop gradually over time or occur suddenly as a result of an auto accident or other acute trauma. They’re most commonly found in the neck and lower back.

A slipped disc is frequently mistaken for a herniated disc. Discs, on the other hand, do not “slip.” They can herniate or “bulge” out of place, as described above. Something causes a disc to protrude out of its normal position in the spine in the case of a bulging disc, but the outer layer of the disc does not tear, so the inner gel-like core does not leak out. However, the symptoms and treatment of a bulging disc are frequently similar to those of a herniated disc.

How To Know If You Have a Herniated Disc

Herniated discs do not always cause pain or other symptoms, as you may be surprised to learn. Surprisingly, a herniated disc can be detected on an MRI even if the average person has no symptoms.

If a herniated disc does cause symptoms, however, the consequences can be severe. The following are some of the most common herniated disc symptoms:

  • Numbness and shooting pain in an arm or leg (if the herniated disc irritates a nearby nerve root that innervates that arm or leg)
  • Arm or leg weakness and altered reflexes (at our physical therapy clinic, some of our patients report issues like frequent tripping because the muscles that lift the foot become weak)
  • Decreased range of motion in the neck or back
  • Tense and painful muscle spasms near the injured disc
  • Pain that improves with certain movements but worsens with others (for example, herniated disc symptoms often get worse or move further into your arm or leg when you bend forward, and get better or move closer to your spine when you lean back or lay flat)

Consult a doctor, physical therapist, or other health professional to find out for sure what’s causing your back pain.

Keep in mind that it’s not always possible to pinpoint exactly what’s causing your symptoms. That’s fine, though: research shows that physical therapy treatment can be beneficial even when doctors are unable to provide an exact back pain diagnosis (so-called “idiopathic” cases).

How Can A Physical Therapist Treat Herniated Disc Pain?

Physical therapy is regarded as the first line of defense in the treatment of herniated discs. A variety of examination tests and techniques can be used by your physical therapist to help clarify what’s going on and identify any underlying factors that may have contributed to your disc herniation.

People with a limited range of motion in their hips or weak core muscles, for example, are more likely to develop herniated discs. We can address these types of contributing factors and help reduce your chances of recurring disc problems by identifying them.

Other common treatments for a herniated disc that your physical therapist may recommend include:

  • Soft tissue massage
  • Non-invasive techniques such as therapeutic ultrasound, electrical stimulation, biofeedback, cold and hot therapy, and diathermy can help you heal faster, reduce spasms and inflammation, and improve your mobility.
  • Core strength and endurance, range of motion, and posture can all be improved with therapeutic exercises and stretches.
  • Orthotics and other types of adaptive equipment like walkers or long-handled reachers to help improve skeletal alignment and make it easier to perform daily tasks

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers physical therapy a good alternative to prescription opioid medications for helping people with low back pain caused by herniated discs and other (non-cancer) related issues. Our physical therapy team also understands that sometimes pain medication is essential in the early phases of an injury in order to alleviate pain and minimize inflammation. That’s why we work collaboratively with your whole medical team to ensure you get the most appropriate treatment for your specific situation. If you have questions about your medications, be sure to talk to your prescribing physician.

Research also suggests that even after a herniated disc heals, a person may still experience prolonged pain. This can happen if the nervous system becomes increasingly sensitive in an attempt to protect you—and it’s something physical therapy can address through a technique known as therapeutic neuroscience education (TNE).

By helping you better understand what pain is and how it happens, we can actually help you experience less of it!

For our patients with herniated discs and other issues causing low back pain, we also provide education about proper body mechanics, ergonomics, self-pacing techniques, exercise programs, and more.

Don’t Let Back Pain Keep You From Living Your Life

Contact our physical therapy clinic today if you’re suffering from herniated disc symptoms and want to avoid surgery or reduce your reliance on medications. We’ll be happy to set you up with a physical therapist who can get you on the road to pain relief as soon as possible.


Scroll to Top