At our physical therapy, we believe an educated patient is an empowered patient. That’s why we love helping our patients gain a better understanding of the health conditions they’re facing.
Herniated disc is one of the most common conditions treated by a physical therapist. If you’ve ever wondered if your back pain is caused by a disc herniation, then we invite you to contact our clinic and schedule an initial examination. In the meantime, keep reading to learn five of the most important things to know about this issue.
1. A herniated disc is not a “slipped disc.”
The term “slipped disc” isn’t all that accurate. That is, discs don’t truly slip out of place but either herniation or bulge. With a disc bulge, the spinal disc (normally aligned between two vertebrae) protrudes out of place due to some sort of abnormal pressure or force. With a disc herniation, the outer fibrous layer of the disc ruptures, which allows the disc’s inner substances to leak out into the surrounding area.
2. Signs and symptoms of herniated discs can vary.
The type and severity of symptoms you experience from a herniated disc depends on several factors, such as where the herniated disc occurs, how severe it is, and whether the injured disc tissue compresses on any nearby structures, like spinal nerve roots.
While some herniated discs have no symptoms at all, others may lead to stiffness, pain, and protective muscle guarding at the level of the herniation (this type of disc injury happens the most often in the neck and lower back). If a herniated nerve compresses a spinal nerve root, a person may notice numbness, tingling, pain, and weakness that radiates into the leg or arm innervated by that nerve. Pain can fluctuate depending on your activity.
3. Anyone can get a herniated disc, but some people are more at risk.
Part of a physical therapist’s job is helping patients understand their risk factors for certain health conditions and then modifying the ones within their control. Modifiable risk factors for herniated disc include physically demanding jobs, poor posture, frequent bending or lifting, smoking, and being obese. Non-modifiable risk factors include trauma, advancing age, family history, and male gender.
4. Physical therapy is a leading treatment for herniated discs.
Physical therapy treatment of herniated discs may include:
- Joint mobilizations and spinal traction, intended to realign and heal injured disc tissue
- Corrective exercises to increase core stabilization and posture
- Manual therapy to increase healing circulation and alleviate connective tissue tension
- Pain-relieving modalities like diathermy, electrical stimulation, and kinesio tape
- Prescription of adaptive equipment and devices like orthoses to enhance posture and function
These services will be individualized to meet your specific goals and needs, so it’s important to realize that your treatment may be different than another person who is dealing with a similar issue.
5. Even if you need surgery to fix your herniated disc, physical therapy can still help.
Surgery is usually considered a last resort for herniated discs. But even if you and your doctor decide that surgical correction is the best choice for your needs, it’s still beneficial to receive physical therapy before and after your surgery. A physical therapist can maximize your core strength and stabilization, address other areas of postural imbalances that may be contributing to your disc herniation, and guide you through therapeutic exercises and lifestyle or occupational modifications that can optimize your outcomes. Our non-invasive modalities can ease post-operative pain and get you back to your life ASAP.