How do you know whether you have a herniated disc or if it’s just good old back pain? With a herniated disc, the pain is typically located in the lumbar spine. That’s the lower part of your backbone. But this is he telltale location for backspin of many origins.
How to Tell if You Have a Herniated Disc
A good way to determine if you have a herniated disc is the pain may change location depending on movements and positions. It may radiate from the back to the buttocks, thighs, or calves. There are certain features of your history that may indicate a herniated disc. Those range from being painful at rest or with activity, movements and positions that change the location and intensity of your pain, as well as some specific signs like pain increasing with coughing, sneezing, or straining. Sometimes the description of the pain can indicate the source. Words like “burning”, “shooting”, or “zinging” may indicate a herniated disc that is irritating a spinal nerve root.
In some cases, you may have already visited who could ave ordered some diagnostic imaging. While an x-ray won’t show a herniated disc, it can help rule other causes of your pain like a fracture. If your doctor recommended having an MRI, this test can show detailed 3-D images of the spinal cord and pinpoint if there is a herniated disc. We often don’t recommend any imaging, but for a few instances, like diminishing bladder or bowel control, or decreased musculature control in your lower extremity. The reasons being that correlation of a positive disc herniation on imaging does not always equal causation; and secondly, most disc herniations heal, with studies showing that the larger the herniation, the more likely it is to reduce.
Therapy for Your Herniated Disc
At the end of the day, regardless of your source of pain (disc or not), the goals for therapy remain the same: to get you moving at your optimal level of function with little to no pain. A physiotherapist or chiropractor will first have you engage in specific exercises to ease the pain. Next, spinal strengthening exercises will teach you how to protect your spine against external forces that want to move you in ways that are not ideal to the particular task your are undertaking. Rehab exercises then transition to strength and conditioning exercises that give you the basis to perform the daily tasks of your everyday life. Now along the way, your physio or chiro may recommend, or even perform, adjunct therapies like deep tissue massage, joint mobilizations or manipulations, acupuncture or electrotherapeutic modalities. They may help, but often not necessary, and will be determined on an individual basis. Finally, walking and progression of aerobic activity is a key component throughout the process.
With therapy, you’re an active participant in your recovery. A physiotherapist or chiropractor will make sure to teach your self-care principles and home exercises that will help you recognize the onset of future episodes and prevent them from developing into sometimes debilitating conditions.
Herniated discs can be very painful injuries that impact your day-to-day life. The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to get surgery to repair your herniated disc. In fact, studies have shown that 90% of patients were able to recover by pursuing non-surgical courses of treatment like physiotherapy. That percentage is a testament to how effective guided rehabilitation is in the treatment of a low back pain, disc-related or not.