Do you wince when you bend over to tie your shoes? Is your back stiff, sore, and achy, especially in the morning? Do you notice numbness, tingling, and pain in an arm or leg?
If you’re experiencing these issues, it’s possible you have a herniated disc. We encourage you to call Washington Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation to see how an experienced physical therapist can provide non-invasive, drug-free relief and help you avoid recurring pain.
What is a Herniated Disc?
Between the 33 vertebral bones in your spine are small cushion-like structures called spinal discs. These discs improve mobility and shock absorption in the spinal column.1
Sometimes, the outer layer of a spinal disc, called the annulus fibrosis, tears. If this happens, the disc’s inner gel-like core, called the nucleus pulposus, can leak through this ruptured tissue. The now “herniated” disc can alter the adjacent joint mechanics and compress and irritate nearby spinal nerve roots.2
Herniated discs are often incorrectly called “slipped discs.” As you can see, a disc doesn’t “slip” so much as it ruptures and encroaches onto surrounding tissues.
A related disc condition is called a bulging disc. In this case, the outer layer of a disc remains intact, but the inner gel-core still protrudes and presses out abnormally.
Signs, Symptoms, and Causes of a Herniated Disc
Herniated discs can occur anywhere in the spine, but they’re the most common in the neck (cervical spine) and lower back (lumbar spine).3 The leading causes and risk factors include3:
- Male gender (men are two times as likely to be diagnosed with a herniated disc than women)
- Advancing age, especially ages 30-50 (discs tend to lose fluid and elasticity as we get older, and become more susceptible to damage)
- Repetitive heavy lifting, bending, and/or twisting
- Poor posture
- Sitting too much
- Family history
- Trauma, such as a car accident or slip and fall
Sometimes herniated discs present with no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they can range from mild to severe and vary depending on where the herniated disc occurs. Signs and symptoms often include:
- Pain, numbness, tingling, weakness, and/or abnormal reflexes in an arm or leg
- Clumsiness, limping, or tripping due to a weakened hand or foot
- Stiffness and reduced mobility in the spine
- Pain that worsens in the morning
- Pain that worsens or moves further down an arm or leg (peripheralizes) when a person bends forward, coughs, sneezes, or sits for a long time
- Pain that improves or move up an arm or leg (centralizes) when a person extends their spine, lies on their stomach, or leans to one side
How Physical Therapy Can Treat Herniated Disc
Research shows that except in extreme cases, conservative treatment like physical therapy is more effective at treating a herniated disc than surgery and pain medications.3 At our clinic, our physical therapist can help you find relief by:
- Diagnosing your condition: we use physical examination tests and personal/medical history to diagnose a herniated disc and rule out other conditions
- Treating your condition: initial treatment goals focus on relieving pain and inflammation, healing the injured disc, alleviating compressed nerves, and restoring normal mobility in your spine. This is possible through a variety of physical therapy techniques including joint mobilizations, stretches and massage, therapeutic exercises, and modalities like cold laser therapy and electrical stimulation.
- Preventing recurring problems: we’ll teach you how to improve your posture and body mechanics, improve the strength and conditioning of your core, and enhance spinal health through healthy lifestyle modifications (e.g., smoking cessation, increasing physical activity, improved nutrition, etc.).
Our overall mission is two-fold: to help you feel better and address the root cause of your disc herniation so you can avoid chronic pain and dysfunction!
Could your symptoms be caused by a herniated disc? Find out and get help with our physical therapy team in Kirkland, WA by arranging an appointment today.