If You’re Living With Back Pain, The Culprit May Be A Herniated Disc
Did you know that a herniated disc can occur anywhere in your spine? At our physical therapy clinic, we see disc herniations frequently among our patients with back, arm, and/or leg pain.
Have you ever felt the sensation that an electric shock is going from your lower back to your legs? Ever experience weakness in your muscles or numbness in your arms and legs? If you’ve answered yes to either of those questions, it could be that you have a herniated disc as well!
If you believe your pain and dysfunction are caused by a herniated disc, we encourage you to contact us today to schedule an appointment with a physical therapist. In the meantime, keep reading to learn more about recognizing herniated disc pain and how a physical therapist can treat it.
What is a herniated disc, anyway?
You might have heard a herniated disc be referred to as a “ruptured” or “bulged” disc. This issue happens when the disc nucleus gets moved out of the annulus and into the spinal canal – which has limited space as it is!
The spine consists of vertebrae that are cushioned by flat, round discs. These discs have an outer layer called the annulus, which surrounds a gel-like material called the nucleus. Discs are located in between each of the vertebrae in the spinal column.
On the outside, these discs are tough and fibrous, but on the inside, they are soft and gel-like. Their main job is to act like little shock absorbers for your spine.
A herniated disc occurs when the tough outer layer of the disc (called the annulus fibrosus) ruptures. This allows the inner gel substance (called the nucleus pulposus) to leak out. The ruptured disc tissue can trigger an inflammatory response and compress nearby structures, including joint receptors and spinal nerve roots.
Because of this movement, displacement often causes pain. A herniated disc can occur literally anywhere in the spine, from the lower part of your back to the cervical spine areas. If you’re feeling pain in your back, a physical therapist could be the one to figure out that it’s due to a disc that has a herniation!
How can I know if I have a herniated disc?
As a person gets older, disc material slowly degenerates. Ligaments will start to grow weaker, and when this happens, even the smallest of movements (such as twisting or stretching) can result in a herniated disc.
Herniated discs can happen for a number of reasons, including a strain or an injury of some sort. Some people are actually predisposed for herniated discs depending on genetics, and some people naturally experience herniated discs naturally as they age.
The signs of a herniated disc are different depending on the size of the disc and its location. If the disc is not pushing on a nerve, you might not feel any pain, but if it is on a nerve, there will be a pain, weakness, and a feeling of numbness in the part of the body where the nerve is being pressed on.
When there is pressure being applied to the sciatic nerve, a condition called sciatica occurs in the lower lumbar spine. Sciatica causes sensations of pain, burning, and numbness ranging from the buttocks, down the legs, and to the feet. Sharp pain may also be felt when walking, sitting, or standing.
You may feel pain in the neck and between your shoulder blades if a herniated disc occurs in the neck area. This pain will most likely be felt down your arms and into your fingers. Needless to say, a herniated disc in any part of your body can cause a world of pain and discomfort.
How can a physical therapist help with herniated disc pain?
If you’re dealing with a herniated disc, chances are you’re experiencing a variety of symptoms that are altering your daily routine. Commonly experienced symptoms that come along with herniated discs are:
Neck or back pain, stiffness, and muscle spasms at the level of the injured disc
Arm or leg pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness (if the herniated disc compresses on an adjacent nerve root that innervates the affected limb)
Pain that worsens with forward flexion or prolonged sitting—forward flexion may also cause the pain to “peripheralized” or move further away from the spine
Pain that improves or “centralizes” (moves toward the spine) with spinal extension, such as when lying down
If you’re suffering from a herniated disc or pressure on your sciatic nerve, your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist. Your therapist will do a thorough examination of you and create a specialized treatment plan that will directly address the pain associated with your condition.
Physical therapy might include massage, ice or heat therapy, pelvic traction and ultrasound, and of course, stretching exercises.
Contact our clinic for an appointment, and get back to living your life
Physical therapy entails a holistic approach with active and passive treatments. A physical therapist will not only provide pain relief for you, but they’ll also be able to teach you how to prevent this kind of injury in the future. They could play a huge role in helping you get back to living a healthy, normal, and active lifestyle.
Call Paul Wiener Physical Therapy to schedule your first appointment and learn more about safe and effective ways to reduce and alleviate your back pain!