Get back to normal: Physical therapy options for herniated discs

physical therapy for herniated disc

A herniated disk can be a pain! It can cause discomfort, numbness and weakness in an arm or leg. Although it can heal on its own, there are physical therapy options for herniated discs to help you get back in action sooner. 

What is a herniated disc?

Think of your spine as a stack of blocks. Your spinal discs are one of many things that keep your vertebra properly distanced and your spine correctly positioned

Discs act like a cushion between each vertebra. The outer portion is made up of strong, dense and somewhat flexible tissue. The center of the disc is less fibrous and contains fluid. Herniation occurs when this fluid bulges through the outer layer. While the disk doesn’t actually “slip,” many people refer to a herniated disk as a “slipped disk.”

Most herniated discs occur in the lower back, but this condition can also take place in the neck. Herniated discs are most common in people 30-50 years old and are twice as common in men.

Our physical therapists don’t just provide herniated disc treatment; they strive to get you to an even better place than you were before your disc herniated. Our personalized physical therapy and exercise program is designed to build up a reserve of strength, flexibility, stability and range of motion, so you can stay active beyond normal everyday activities. This approach is different than what you get with a personal trainer, who may focus on just one area of the back. 

Herniated disc symptoms

Usually, herniated disc symptoms occur on one side of your body. Pain from a herniated disc may be sharp or shooting and can travel into the arms or legs when you move into certain positions. The pain may also increase when you cough or sneeze. A slipped disc can also cause numbness or weakness.

Herniated disc symptomsdepend on the location of the disc and whether it’s pressing on a spinal nerve. If a herniated disc is in your neck, you may experience shoulder or arm pain. (Find out more about herniated discs that can contribute to a pinched nerve in your neck in this blog.) If a herniated disc is in your lower back, buttock and leg pain (thigh, calf or foot) may occur.

Herniated discs can also irritate nearby nerves. You may feel radiating numbness and tingling or weakness in nearby muscles which can lead to stumbling or a decreased ability to lift and hold something.

However, it’s also quite common for people with a herniated disc to not experience any symptoms. In fact, you may never know you have a herniated disc unless it shows up on an Xray or MRI.

If you’re experiencing similar pain and symptoms, you don’t have to. Give us a call today for a free consultation.

Risk factors and common causes of herniated discs

Common causes of a herniated disc include:

  • Age-related wear and tear on discs (degeneration).
  • Improper lifting mechanics such as using your back muscles instead of your legs and twisting and turning while you lift.
  • Overuse or sports activities. When one area of your spine gets stressed repeatedly, it may lead to wear and tear. Inadequate recovery can also lead to disc issues.

Risk factors of a herniated disc include:

  • Smoking. Smoking reduces your discs’ oxygen supply. Less oxygen can cause discs to deteriorate more quickly—which is also a significant factor in lower back pain.
  • Physically demanding jobs. Repetitive lifting, pulling, pushing, bending and twisting at your job can increase your risk.
  • Genetics. Herniated discs can run in the families.
  • Excess body weight. Being overweight causes extra stress on lower back discs, increasing the risk of herniation.

How herniated discs are diagnosed?

At Excel Physical Therapy, we take a holistic approach to diagnose your herniated disc. Our physical therapists evaluate as many aspects as possible, from your daily job activities to your personal, family and medical history.

To help determine what’s causing your pain, we assess your movement and check for back tenderness. We also check neurological function, including reflexes, muscle strength, walking and your ability to feel light touches.

To help determine the effect on your nerves, we evaluate nerve mobility and look for signs of nerve irritation or restriction. We also seek to identify activities that increase your symptoms like sitting too much, doing laundry, vacuuming, exercising, shoveling or gardening

If our physical therapists suspect a condition other than a herniated disc, or if we need to identify specific nerves that are being affected, we may refer you to an orthopedic specialist for an MRI, CT Scan, EMG or nerve test.

Schedule an appointment today to get a personalized treatment plan designed to help treat your herniated disc as fast as possible

Treat your herniated disc as fast as possible

The most effective treatment for herniated discs is to identify the root of the problem and address it. To do this, our physical therapists assess the aspects that can contribute to your herniated disc.

Your herniated disc has a better chance of healing under the careful supervision of a doctor or physical therapist. Participating in an individualized treatment plan carried out in a controlled manner is the best way to see progress.

Many of our patients find success with a combination of therapy appointments and at-home exercises. Movement helps  and the right movements can help get your discs the nutrition they need. Your plan may also include medications commonly used to control pain, inflammation and spasms (like steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), pain relievers and muscle relaxers).

Our therapists seek to help you do more than you were before your disc herniated—not just provide pain relief.

Set up an appointment today for a personalized treatment plan designed to help you live your best life.