A herniated disc, sometimes referred to as a bulging disc, is one of the most common ailments that can affect a person’s spine.

Strangely enough, due to lack of symptoms, some individuals do not even know they have the condition. Others may find it quite debilitating, experiencing persistent issues with back pain, sciatica, and the inability to engage in their normal activities.

Although a disc herniation can occur anywhere along the spine, this article will focus on disc herniation that may occur in the lumbar (lower back) region.

If you have been experiencing back pain from a disc herniation, Cawley Physical Therapy can help! Our physical therapists will make a personalized plan that works for you.

Call us now to make an appointment!

What Is a Herniated Disc?

Between each bone that makes up the spinal column resides an intervertebral disc. These doughnut-shaped discs consist of a tough, fibrous outer layer and a jelly-like material on the inside that provides cushioning and shock absorption for the spine. A disc herniation occurs when a tear forms in the outer layer, thus allowing the internal jelly-like substance to leak from the disc.

A herniated disc can occur suddenly from a “weekend warrior” task that involves heavy lifting and bending or twisting motions in the lower back. A herniated disc can also occur over a long period of time, especially among sedentary individuals whose jobs require them to sit for extended periods. The act of sitting places enormous pressure on the spine, eventually compressing the intervertebral discs. In turn, disc compression encourages leaks (herniations) to form.

Until recently, it was thought that disc herniations were mainly experienced within the older population (age 40 and above). With today’s younger generation becoming more sedentary through excessive computer and gaming use, there is a growing trend for the condition to appear in the 25-40 age group.

Most Common Areas for Disc Herniations 

The most common area for a lumbar disc herniation to occur is in the lowermost levels of the lumbar section of the spine. This includes the disc between the L4-L5 bones and between the L5-S1 bones, where the lumbar section meets with the sacral portion of the spine. As the jelly-like material begins to leak, it may place pressure on adjacent spinal nerves. In rare cases, it can put pressure on the tissues protecting the spinal cord (spinal stenosis). 

The instability brought on by the cushioning material leaving the discs can also cause nearby muscles such as the paraspinal, the multifidus, and the quadratus lumborum to tighten and become painful. Chronic tightness of these muscles can eventually pull more spinal components out of alignment along with the sacroiliac joint, thus bringing even more pain and discomfort.

Symptoms Associated With a Herniated Disc

While some individuals may experience no symptoms with a herniated disc, others may experience a myriad of symptoms, including:

  • Persistent lower back pain.
  • Lower back pain associated with prolonged walking and standing.
  • Difficulty walking uphill or up a flight of stairs.
  • Difficulty bending forward. 
  • Pain extending to thighs and calves.
  • A decrease in lower extremity strength and sensation.
  • The inability to cough or sneeze without increasing pain levels.

If these sound unpleasant, that’s because they are. If you sit for your job or notice symptoms like the above starting in your back, give us a call. We will examine you and set you up with some preventative therapy if it’s right for you.

As you may have heard, prevention is often easier than treatment!

How Can Physical Therapy Help?

Physical therapy can help with a herniated or protruded disc by employing a variety of methods. Physical therapy may include a series of lumbar spinal traction sessions, helping to decompress important spinal components and relieving pressure on adjacent pinched nerves. Physical therapists may also employ spinal manipulation techniques and massage to help alleviate the pain associated with a herniated disc.

Aquatic therapy is one kind of therapy that can do this for you! A trained physical therapist will also introduce stretches and exercises designed to increase a person’s range of motion, improve joint mobility, and build muscle strength in the core and lumbar regions. This, in turn, can help provide proper muscular support for the various components of the spine.

Physical therapists can also provide instruction on proper lifting techniques, sitting comfortably, and practicing good posture.

Make an Appointment with Cawley Physical Therapy

If you or someone you know needs a solution for a herniated disc, we can help. Cawley Physical Therapy has been working with patients to manage their pain and discomfort for many years, and we want to help you, too. Come see us, and we will make a physical therapy plan tailored for you.

Please contact Cawley Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation at 570-208-2787 for more information.