The spine is an extremely complex part of your body. It contains 24 bones, and 5 of those bones are located in your lower back. It also has a large number of nerves and intervertebral discs that help with movement. Unfortunately, it is sometimes possible for these discs to protrude (or “herniate”) through the cell wall. This occurs when the cell wall is weakened, due to some sort of damage. If pressure continues, the disc can push through the outer ring of the wall, causing a bulge. This is known as a herniated disc.
Herniated discs occur along the spine, and they are most often found in the lower back. Lower back pain is typically the first symptom of a herniated disc, and it can range from moderate to severe. As the herniation progresses, you may experience additional symptoms, including shooting pain down the back of one leg or the loss of bladder control. If you are experiencing back pain and you think it may be the result of a herniated disc, contact Hawaii Sports & Balance Center today to schedule a consultation with one of our licensed physical therapists.
Diagnosing herniated discs:
If you are suffering from pain that you believe may be related to a herniated disc, it is important to consult with your primary care physician. Your doctor will be able to diagnose whether or not your pain is resulting from a herniated disc by assessing your muscle strength and sensation. You may also need to undergo a neurological exam or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan as your doctor deems fit.
From an MRI scan, your doctor will clearly be able to see if there is a herniated disc in the lower back region. If a disc is pressing on your spine, it will be detected on the MRI. After your diagnosis is complete, your doctor will provide you with a treatment plan that will likely include physical therapy for pain relief and rehabilitation services.
Why do herniated discs develop?
A common cause of herniated discs is aging, as the spine begins to wear down and become more brittle. When herniated discs develop due to age, it is known as “disc degeneration.”
This happens due to a gradual decrease in water content within the discs. When we are young, the discs in our spine all contain a a high water content; however, this water content gradually decreases as we age, causing the discs to shrink. Therefore, the older we get, the more prone we become to disc degeneration. Other risk factors that may put you at a higher risk of developing herniated discs include:
- Being between the ages of 20-50.
- Being overweight.
- Being male.
- Driving frequently.
- Engaging in improper lifting techniques.
- Engaging in a sedentary lifestyle.
How physical therapy can help:
After your physical therapist has adressed your needs and designed a treatment plan specifically for you, your passive physical therapy treatments will begin. These treatments are primarily focused on providing pain relief and may include any combination of ice and heat therapies, deep tissue massage, traction, hydrotherapy, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).
Once you have demonstrated progress in pain relief, your physical therapist will guide you through your active physical therapy treatments. These treatments are primarily focused on regaining function and mobility. They may include stretching and flexibility exercises to increase your range of motion, core exercises to strengthen your back, or any other muscle strengthening exercises that your physical therapist deems fit. You will also receive self-care advice from your physical therapist, in order to prevent injuries from reoccurring and to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.
Physical therapy is a safe, pain-free, and effective treatment option for disc herniation. It is a noninvasive alternative to surgery and a natural way to relieve pain without the need for harmful drugs. If you are suffering from a disc herniation, or you think you might be, contact our Lihue, HI office today. Our experienced and certified physical therapists would be happy to help you get you started on your process toward long-lasting pain relief.