This blog is the second part of a two-part blog on herniated discs. In the first post we covered the anatomy of your spinal discs and the common injuries to these discs. You can visit that post by clicking this link. Today we will discuss the symptoms and treatment of a herniated disc and what you should expect when you see a physical therapist.
SYMPTOMS OF A DISC
Just as no two people are the same, neither are our injuries. So this is a list of all possible symptoms but even just having one or two could indicate a disc injury, or you could even have a herniated disc without any symptoms. But on the flip side you could have two or more and actually not have a disc injury. (Are you thoroughly confused yet?) An evaluation from a physical therapist or medical doctor would be required to properly diagnose or rule out a herniated disc. These are the most common symptoms of a disc injury:
- Forward flexed posture
- Increased pain in the morning or late at night
- You don’t love sitting (standing might also not be that great due to more pressure on the disc)
- Symptoms radiating down your leg or arm such as numbness, tingling, and/or pain
- Weakness in arms or leg
- Muscle cramping or tightness in your neck or back
HOW CAN PHYSICAL THERAPY HELP?
Physical therapists can design treatment programs that help the discs heal and address any other associated issues the back and lower body have from compensating. The back will try to protect itself as you still try to function and it can result in muscle tightness and guarding, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, tension in the nervous system, core weakness, and injury to other structures in the spine (ligaments, joints, nerves) as the disc fails to do its job. Treatment of these related issues can help your pain and provide good stimulus for the disc to heal. Additionally we can design exercise programs so you don’t risk re-injury. You don’t have to become completely immobile while waiting to heal. For example walking 15-30 min can help pump nutrients to the disc to allow itself to repair.
Therapy can also involve “passive modalities” like traction, ultrasound, electric stimulation, heat and ice. These can help you feel better and promote healing, but you aren’t the type of person who lives your life laying down on a table. You need to lift, reach upwards, pick things off the ground, hike up 14,000ft while carrying a 20 lbs backpack.
Therapy will also include exercises to re-activate the small stabilizers (called the multifidus) of the vertebrae that “shut off” with low back pain. When these don’t work, the large muscles of the back to take over which leads to fatigue and spasm (aka more back pain and tightness). There is a large variety of simple to advanced exercises to work the muscles you need to and these aren’t your weight lifter grandma’s intense sit ups.
You might also be put through exercises to restore motion of the spine, improve the hydration of the disc and to improve flexibility of the lower limbs. These help combat the stiff and “stuck” feeling of your low back.
Finally, PTs can teach you positions to ease your pain. Remember how I said sitting tends to be a painful position? Try a rolled up towel placed in the low back to maintain the natural curve. Don’t rely on the “lumbar support” from your desk chair or automobile seat. Don’t rely on a “one size fits all” for your specific back anatomy.
Low back bothering you through the day or at home? Try lying on the floor on your back with your hips and knees flexed to 90 degrees such as when you lay on the floor with your legs up on the sofa or a chair.
If after reading this you have further questions or suspect you may be suffering from a herniated disc, feel free to call us or stop by one of our offices to schedule an appointment with me or another therapist. One of the keys to a quick recover is to not only beginning to receive treatment right away, but also knowing what to do and what not to do. This is where we take each patient as an individual and create a specific program that matches your symptoms and abilities. So don’t waste any more time, come by and see us to get your back in shape and allow us to help you recover quickly and effectively.
Kacie Rognlie, PT
Clinic Manager – South Office
Synergy Manual Physical Therapy
North Office (map)
4105 Briargate Parkway
Colorado Springs, CO 80920
South Office (map)
600 South 21st Street
Colorado Springs, CO 80904