Disc Herniation

Herniated discs (often called ‘slipped’ discs) occur when the cartilage tissue resting between bones in the spine starts to apply pressure on a nerve. While they are a common ailment that can occur at any stage of life, they tend to occur more frequently among people in their middle and later years. In a small proportion of instances, a severely herniated disc can cause months of considerable discomfort. Yet most of the time the pain can be quite easily managed through a combination of remedial exercise and when appropriate, medicine. It is common for people to not even notice that they have a slipped disc and simply be diagnosed with it after going into a medical office for other reasons.

Signs of Disc Herniation

As there are so many potential causes of sudden back pain it is always advisable to consult with a doctor if the pain does start to subside within a week or so. Spine pains differ from the more general ‘numbness’ that is experienced with impact injuries or strains. Disc hernias tend to exhibit the following symptoms:

  • General lower back pain

  • Aches & tightness around the neck

  • Tingling throughout the limbs from hands to feet

  • Difficulty straightening the back or bending over

  • Pain – often very sharp – around the hips, thighs, and buttocks

  • General muscle weakness

It is worth also noting that herniated discs are often not ’caused’ by any clearly identifiable reason. You can quite simply wake up one morning and suddenly be in pain, or just be casually strolling around and suddenly freeze up. When experienced for the first time they can be quite alarming especially if the pain is especially acute. But the good news is that most of the time these issues can be fully addressed and it is very rare for a herniated disc to lead to long term health issues or disability.

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Initial Treatments For Herniated Discs

Should you suspect that you may have a herniated disc then rest assured that the majority of times it will gradually heal on its own accord. In the broadest of terms, a slipped disc ought to heal within 4-8 weeks but it can take time to notice much improvement during the early stages. Should you be experiencing any other symptoms besides pain – especially greatly increased body temperature, disorientation/dizziness, loss of control of bodily functions or sudden weight loss – then see a medical doctor straight away.

When it comes to self-treatment there is a slight paradox to understand. You need to rest up for a while – but also remain active! Avoid serious exercise, especially anything that involves intense aerobic activity, weight lifting, or bending. While it is fine to lie down in bed for a day or two, you should try to get up and move around a little to help prevent your muscles from becoming too stiff. Apply both heat packs and ice packs to areas where the pain is most severe (you can mix these up without any worry). Try and move around as much as is comfortably possible. Even gentle movements such as preparing a meal or a slow stroll will help relax the muscles and lessen the pain.

The pain will be at its worst during the early stages and can cause considerable discomfort and difficulty sleeping. Avoid using medications until consulting with your physical therapist or medical doctor. Don’t wait to get into an office and get checked out.   There are a number of treatments that can be provided to a patient for slipped discs. The key is getting seen by your physical therapist early and regularly.

Physical Therapy & Herniated Discs

Perhaps the greatest issue with a herniated disc is that they have an unfortunate habit of recurring. For this reason, it is important to consider physical therapy for its educational purposes just as much as for its capacity to help solve an immediate problem. Much of what you will experience during physical therapy can easily be introduced into your daily schedule. Even just five minutes of stretching each morning can considerably reduce the chances of the problem flaring up again soon. 

Physical therapy will focus precisely on the muscles around the part of the spine that is causing discomfort. Treatments will/may include:

  • A structured program of stretches to keep muscles supple and strong

  • An element of aerobic exercise – especially those which can be included within a daily schedule (walking, cycling, etc).

  • Massage to provide immediate relief (both hot and cold)

  •  Electrical stimulation, osteopathy, and ultrasound therapies especially when the case is long term and causing disability

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Invasive Treatment Options For Herniated Discs

Usually, treatments and even regenerative therapy will only be considered viable options providing nothing else has satisfactorily addressed the problem. In most cases, these will be offered only when the problem is extremely severe – to the point of causing long term incapacitation.

Epidural treatments will look at using steroids to rapidly reduce inflammation. Digital motion X-rays may determine the best location for these to be applied, and be aware that this treatment may need to be administered numerous times. While treatments are effective in the short term they provide very little in regards to preventing future issues, so it is important to understand that they need to be followed up with physical therapy and lifestyle changes.

Surgery is rarely necessary for herniated discs alone but if pain continues their are alternative options such as regenerative therapy that can be considered for recovery.

Final Thoughts

Herniated discs are a common form of back pain and while they are very unpleasant and can be debilitating in the short term, in the vast majority of cases they will heal themselves within a few weeks. Anyone who experiences them for the first time ought to consider is a ‘warning’ that elements of their lifestyle could be weakening their spine. After they have occurred once there is a very high chance that they will flare up again.

Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to back pain problems and medical services will encourage people who have experienced a slipped disc to look into how exercising (even the most gentle) can not just lessen their severity and regularity but also aid with recovery too.

Herniated discs can be very painful or just a frustration.  Regardless, you shouldn’t live with the pain any more. Schedule a consultation with our medical doctors and find some pain relief!

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