Have you ever noticed that your neck or back hurts badly, but you can’t figure out where the source of the pain is? You know that something is awfully wrong with you, but what it is, you’re not quite sure.
Several possible complications – including one or more herniated discs – may be demonstrated by strange neck pains, back pain, or limb symptoms. How can you know for sure if you’re having this particular problem? And if you do have one, would you know what to do about it?
There is no need for these questions to worry or scare you. Here are some of our physical therapist’s useful tidbits of knowledge about herniated discs, their common symptoms, and how physical therapy can help you manage your pain.
Herniated discs, defined
You might have heard herniated discs called by another name, such as “slipped disc,” and “ruptured disc.” These are all just different ways of describing the same physical problem.
Your spinal discs are squat 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.
Unfortunately, that toughness has its limits. Sometimes a disc will lose hydration over time, causing the nucleus pulposus to shrink. The disc loses its height, which stresses the spinal joints and may cause the disc to bulge outward.
Over time, these changes can cause part of the annulus fibrosus to balloon and tear open; this is a herniated disc.
Causes of herniated discs
A herniated disc can be caused by a variety of causes such as movements like turning or twisting. Another culprit is moving heavy objects. Being overweight can also cause a herniated disc. This is because more weight needs to be borne by the disks. Herniated discs can also occur suddenly due to an auto accident, workplace accident, or sports injury that traumatizes the spine
The discs start losing some of their protective water content as we age. It allows the disc to fall out of place more quickly. This means the elderly are at a higher risk of developing a herniated disc than someone who is in their 20’s or 30’s.
How do I know if I have a herniated disc?
Herniated discs don’t always cause symptoms, but the symptoms that they do cause can help you troubleshoot the nature of your problem.
The most common symptoms of herniated discs include:
- An inability to walk more than a few steps without pain
- Symptoms that started shortly after an accident, extreme twisting of the neck or back, or an attempt to lift a heavy object
- Symptoms that began after you gained a lot of weight (since obesity is a risk factor for disc problems)
- Neck pain (if it’s a cervical disc)
- Back pain that seems to grow worse when you sneeze, cough, stand up or sit down
- Pain, tingling, or loss of sensation in a limb (the result of a herniated disc pressing against nerve roots)
If your symptoms seem to be soothed by massage, heat, or cold, you’re more likely to have a strained muscle or tendon than a herniated disc. Ultimately, the most accurate way to confirm a herniated disc is through medical imaging. X-rays can reveal not only the abnormal shape of a herniated disc but also whether the herniation is pinching a nerve.
Don’t try to diagnose yourself at home, all that causes is a lot of unnecessary worry and stress. A physical therapist is a movement specialist who can not only diagnose your pain but pinpoint the origin of it as well.
How can physical therapy help my herniated disc pain?
Most herniated discs can be treated successfully without surgery. Physical therapy can be instrumental in helping you reduce or eliminate your symptoms. Our physical therapist can recommend specific exercises to build up the strength in your back or neck. These exercises can counter any atrophy or weakness you’ve experienced due to your herniated disc. They can also reinforce your neck and back, lending these structures extra support and making them less vulnerable to future herniation. We may also recommend other non-invasive techniques to complement your physical therapy exercises and help you heal.
Ready to have your condition assessed?
A herniated disc can cause a lot of misery — but don’t panic. Are you ready to learn more about herniated discs and get the answers to your neck or back needs? Contact our physical therapist at Health Point Physical Therapy today to schedule a consultation today.