Herniated discs, defined
What’s the deal with your diagnosis of a herniated disc? To understand, let’s start with a simple anatomy lesson. The spine consists of 33 bones called vertebrae. The vertebrae are cushioned by discs which allow the spine to be flexible without sacrificing strength. They also act as a shock absorber and prevent friction of the vertebrae.
It is quite common for the disc to become distorted and for the circumference of the disc to extend beyond the margins of your vertebral bodies. This is known as a herniated disc. The distortion can range from a small bulge to a sequestration, where a portion of the disc breaks off from the body.
You may hear a herniated disc being referred to as a “slipped” disc. But we know now that discs are quite secured to the vertebral column. They don’t slip out of place. Nonetheless, herniated discs can exist in the absence of pain, or they can be extremely painful, especially if it irritates the surrounding nerves.
Studies show that herniated discs are present in 20% of asymptomatic young adults and in 90% of asymptomatic individuals over 55.
Asymmetric compressive loading can lead to a herniated disc. Sometimes this can be sustained (a prolonged posture), repetitive (a job that requires repetitive forward bending), or traumatic (a fall or a motor vehicle accident). Disc degeneration, which is a normal process of aging, results in the changing of the disc content from more fluid-like to more fibrous-like. This results in the flattening of the the disc and, sometimes, impingement of the spinal nerve.
When you herniate a disc, you may experience reduced mobility of your neck or back, pain into your upper or lower extremity, and even weakness. Additionally, when you cough or sneeze, the pain may send a shooting sensation into your extremity. But again, the degree to which you experience these things (if experienced at all) are different from case to case and person to person.
Rehabilitation of the herniated disc
While only the most severe cases might require surgery (less than 3% of all cases), physiotherapy and chiropractic care play a major role in your herniated disc recovery. They will conduct an in-depth evaluation of you that leads them to design a specific treatment program geared towards relieving your pain and speeding up your recovery. The end goal is for you to return to your normal activities and lifestyle. Typically, this process from start to finish can be achieved between three to four months with the help of your physiotherapist or chiropractor. But it’s quite common that it can happen faster. Conversely, some factors (even those not relating to the herniated disc, or your anatomy at all) can delay recovery. So it’s important to stay optimistic, eat and drink well, get enough sleep, and reduce stress as much as possible.
Best practice guidelines for neck and low back pain indicate that education and active rehabilitation are instrumental in recovery.
Your treatment program might start with education about remaining active and avoiding bedrest, on top of some of the things we’ve already discussed. The active part will depend on your pain tolerance and can be as little as a few minute walk around your house, several times per day.
The early stages of your treatment will focus on quick pain relief and other symptom modification strategies. They include one or more of specific movements or exercises, manual techniques, and therapeutic modalities like acupuncture. Afterward, recovery of function becomes important. It will involve your physiotherapist or chiropractor expanding your treatment plan to include strengthening your core and other muscle groups, as well as gradual (re-) exposure to your activity.
Finally, your therapist will take some time to address prevention. The natural history of neck and low back pain indicates that you will get more than one episode in your lifetime. But is possible to learn strategies to mitigate the effects or perhaps prevent a herniated disc in the future. This may involve periodic checks of physical baselines, ergonomic recommendations, or specific stretches, exercises, and other movement strategies for taking care of your spine during your typical daily activities, like sitting or standing at a desk all day.
Find relief for your herniated disc pain today!
Herniated disc pain can sneak up on you. You’re sitting comfortably watching TV, and when you stand up . . .BAM, there’s a sharp pain that radiates through your neck or back.
If you’re suffering with pain and you’ve been diagnosed with a herniated disc, you don’t have to be. Give our office a call for an evaluation, to schedule an appointment.
Our physiotherapists or chiropractor will review your medical history, perform an evaluation, and create a personalized treatment plan just for you. We’ll get you on the road to recovery.