Do you seem to have trouble perform even simple everyday activities due to severe back or neck pain? Do you have strange neurological symptoms in your arms or legs that you simply cannot account for? Has your spine never quite worked as it should since you experienced a recent accident? You may be struggling with a condition known as a herniated disc. But before you stress yourself out over the prospect of undergoing major neck or back surgery, rest assured that many cases of herniated discs respond well to physical therapy and other conservative techniques. Contact Sports & Ortho Physical Therapy today to learn more!
What Is a Herniated Disc?
To understand why and how vertebral discs herniate, it’s first important to understand what these structures are and what they do. The outer part of a vertebral disc is a disc-shaped container made of cartilage. This container, the annulus fibrosis, holds a gelatinous inner substance called the nucleus pulposus. Discs have enough springiness, toughness and flexibility to absorb shock from walking, running, and changes in physical position. At the same time, they maintain a constant height, which helps to support the facet joints that connect and articulate the vertebrae.
Unfortunately, functional failures can and do happen to vertebral discs. Damage or stress can cause part of the annulus fibrosus to weaken. This leads it to balloon outward from the spinal column. If the weakened cartilage ruptures, the nucleus pulposus can make its way out of the disc and onto nearby spinal nerve tissue.
Causes and Symptoms of Herniated Discs
A sudden trauma that forces your spine out of its normal alignment can easily cause a herniated disc — but you don’t have to be in an accident to experience this painful problem. Many herniated discs are the end result of a long-brewing chronic musculoskeletal imbalance or degenerative condition. Your herniated disc may have been caused by:
- Degenerative disc disease: In this age-related process, the discs lose some of their internal hydration, which allows them to flatten and bulge.
- Postural problems: Years of poor sitting or standing posture may place undue stress on the disc until it finally ruptures.
- Obesity: Extra weight means extra pressure on your spinal discs.
If you’re already prone to weak spinal musculature and physical imbalances, even a simple twisting or bending motion might suddenly cause a disc to herniate.
Herniated discs can cause sharp, debilitating back pain or neck pain. If the discs are pinching spinal nerve roots, they can also refer neurological symptoms to an arm or leg (depending on the location of the disc. Watch out for back pain that seems to get worse when you’re sitting down, or for pain, tingling, weakness or numbness in any of your extremities. These are the classic signs of a herniated disc.
How Physical Therapy Can Help Herniated Discs
Our physical therapist can check your symptoms against X-rays, postural evaluations, and other factors to confirm the presence and location of a herniated disc. While the most severe cases might require surgery, physical therapy can help many sufferers overcome their symptoms the natural way. Physical therapy to treat herniated discs focuses on building the strength in your back muscles, optimizing your posture, and increasing your pain-free flexibility. Our physical therapist may start you with a daily walking regimen before moving on to more strenuous aerobic and strengthening exercises.
The sooner we start treating your herniated disc through physical therapy, the better. Contact our physical therapist to schedule an initial evaluation!