Have you ever experienced excruciating pain in your lower back, neck, or tingling in your limbs? Chances are the pain is coming from a herniated disc in your back.
Herniated disc pain can be debilitating, but the good news is that physical therapy can help diagnose your problem and help relieve your pain. Call our clinic today to learn more about the benefits of physical therapy for herniated disc pain.
What is a herniated disc?
A herniated disc refers to an issue with one of the rubbery cushions that are in between the vertebrae. A spinal disc has a soft jellylike interior with a tougher exterior. Your spinal discs are flat discs of tissue that lie between the vertebrae.
A disc consists of a fluid-filled center called the “nucleus pulposus”, encased in an outer structure called the “annulus fibrosus”. This arrangement makes the disc both tough enough and spongy enough to absorb shocks.
How do I know if I have a herniated disc?
While most herniated discs occur in the lower back, they also can occur in the cervical area. Symptoms are dependent on where the disc is located and whether or not it’s compressing a nerve. Typically, one side of the body is affected.
The pain with a herniated disc can be sharp. Pain, numbness, and tingling can radiate to other parts of the body, too.
You may experience arm or leg pain, tingling or numbness, or weakness. If the herniated disc is located in the back, you’ll likely experience pain in the buttocks, thigh, and calf. If it’s located in the neck, you’ll likely experience pain in the arm and shoulder.
Other symptoms include:
- An inability to walk more than a few steps without pain
- Pain, tingling, or loss of sensation in a limb (the result of a herniated disc pressing against nerve roots)
- Back pain that seems to grow worse when you sneeze, cough, stand up, or sit down
- Neck pain (if it’s a cervical disc)
Keep in mind that you can have a herniated disc with no symptoms. In this case, the best way to know for sure if you have one is to allow a physical therapist to have a look.
What causes a herniated disc?
Lifting heavy objects improperly can cause a herniated disc. Other risk factors include weight and genetics, which can predispose one to develop a herniated disc. Excess body weight causes more stress on the discs.
Although anyone can develop a herniated disc, they’re more commonly experienced as we age. A herniated disc is often the result of disc degeneration. With age, the disc becomes less flexible.
How is a herniated disc diagnosed?
Herniated discs can be diagnosed with a physical exam. Your doctor can perform a neurological exam to check muscle strength, reflexes, functionality, and walking ability. Imaging tests may be ordered to diagnose the cause of your pain; a CT scan shows cross-sectional images of the spinal column and can pinpoint a herniated disc. An MRI creates images of the body’s internal structures and can also confirm the location of a herniated disc.
If you’re diagnosed with a herniated disc, physical therapy can help you to recover and get back to your normal levels of function. Your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist for further evaluation, where you’ll also receive treatment for the herniated disc.
How does a physical therapist treat a herniated disc?
Physical therapy plays a critical role in recovery from a herniated disc. There are a variety of physical therapy techniques, including passive and active treatments.
Passive treatments by a physical therapist include:
- Hot and cold therapy – Heat therapy increases blood flow to the target area and enhances healing. Cold therapy reduces inflammation and muscle spasm due to a herniated disc.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) – This uses tiny electric currents to trigger endorphins and reduces pain.
- Deep tissue massage – Stimulates an increase in oxygen and nutrients for pain relief and healing.
Core strengthening exercises will strengthen the back muscles for better support. Flexibility and stretching exercises will enhance movement. Exercises for muscle strengthening will create strong structural support of the back.
If you have a herniated disc, a physical therapist will work with you to develop an active treatment program. The focus of therapy is to improve flexibility, core stability, and muscle strength.
Are you ready to feel your best?
All around, physical therapy can help you recover from a herniated disc and help prevent future injury to the spine. If you’re experiencing any symptoms of a herniated disc, it’s wise to see a physical therapist for assessment and treatment. Contact New York City Wellness today to schedule an appointment and get back to feeling your best.
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