Lumbar disc herniation is a devastating medical complication that may result in immense back pain. Physical Therapy can reduce this pain and help optimize your overall health.
What is a Lumbar Disc Herniation?
Each of the bones that form the spine are cushioned from one another by sponge-like discs. These help absorb the shock from movements of the body. They also help in optimizing the flexibility of the spine.
In many instances, one or more of these discs experience damage.
When this occurs, the actual disc may start to bulge or may completely break open. While many may refer to this occurrence as a “slipped disc” or a “ruptured disc”, this is medically-termed a “herniated disc”.
There are three distinct locations of the spine.
The neck, which is referred to as the “cervical spine”, the upper back, which is referred to as the “thoracic spine”, and the lower back, which is referred to as the “lumbar spine”.
A lumbar disc herniation is a damaged disc in the lower back region.
“For all the happiness mankind can gain; is not in pleasure, but in rest from pain….” – John Dryden
What Causes a Lumbar Disc Herniation?
Many individuals experience a lumbar disc herniation because of the natural aging process.
As we grow older, the discs in our spine start to dry out.
This, in turn, results in a general lack of flexibility.
When we engage in certain movements, this dryness and lack of flexibility may cause one or more disc to bulge or rupture. Any type of spinal injury could cause a herniation in the disc to develop.
While the disc is covered in a hard, protective material, injuries could cause tears, which could result in the internal fluids of the disc to leak out.
What Happens When the Disc Gel Leaks Out?
When the gel of the inside of a lumbar disc herniation leaks out into the body, it immediately irritates the nerves that run to and from the spine.
The reaction is similar to that of a chemical-based irritation.
Pain immediately sets into the region because the nerves become inflamed in response to the irritation of the gel and the swelling that sets in because of the pressure that is placed on the area by the herniated disc.
Lumbar Disc Herniation Symptoms
In most instances, pain is the most pronounced symptom of a lumbar disc herniation. This is not always the case.
Pressure and inflammation irritate the nerves.
This causes most of the symptoms that are experienced with this type herniation.
The following outlines some of the most commonly experienced symptoms that come with the development of a lumbar disc herniation:
- Many find that they suffer from pain in one or both of their legs when a disc in the lower back becomes herniated.
- Tingling sensations may occur as a result of the pressure placed on the nerves near the spine. In most instances, the tingling sensations occur within the legs.
- Muscle pain, discomfort, and weakness is common within the legs when a lumbar disc has herniated.
- In some instances, lumbar disc herniations may cause detrimental effects to the reflexes in one or both of the legs.
- Pain may develop in the back when a disc becomes herniated.
When Should I Get Medical Help?
There are a few different symptoms that may occur when a lumbar disc herniation occurs that indicates you need immediate medical help.
These include weakness or numbness in both legs, the loss of bladder control, and/or the loss of control over the bowels.
If any of these symptoms develop, it could indicate the development of an issue called “cauda equina syndrome”.
While this is a rare situation, it is quite serious and if you are experiencing the symptoms associated with it, you should seek medical attention right away.
What is Cauda Equina Syndrome?
This is a situation that results when the nerve roots located on the very end of the spinal cord are unnaturally squeezed together.
When this happens, bladder problems, bowel complications, lower pelvic issues, and serious leg problems – such as numbness and lack of functionality – may develop.
Treatments for Lumbar Disc Herniation
There are generally four types of treatments available for patients with lumbar disc herniation.
These include self-care treatments, medications, physical therapy, and surgery.
All treatments are generally considered to be effective for the reduction of symptoms.
Those that have experienced long-term relief claim that physical therapy is the most productive option for treatment.
How Does a Physical Therapist Help?
Ultimately, the overall goal of physical therapy is to assist patients in returning to their full capacity as quickly as possible, without experiencing additional injury.
A physical therapist does not encourage the long-term use of medications or surgery unless it is deemed absolutely necessary.
A physical therapist will perform the following in order to help individuals with a lumbar disc herniation:
- Teaching proper posture techniques
- Instruct on how to walk properly with the injury
- Educate on appropriate lifting strategies
- Encourage to engage in stretching exercises that will optimize the flexibility of both the spine and the legs
- Help to strengthen the stomach muscles
- Aid in making the back muscles stronger
- Engage in activities that help develop the leg muscles
- Provide exercises that are designed to optimize the strength of the spine
Popular Techniques Among Physical Therapists
Physical therapists aid in encouraging activities that offer pain relief and help the overall conditioning of the body so that further injuries do not occur.
There are two types of techniques used in physical therapy. One is referred to as “passive” and the other is referred to as “active”.
Passive Physical Therapy Treatments for Disc Herniation
Examples of passive treatments include massage of the deep tissues, hot therapy, cold therapy, water therapy, the use of a TENS machine, and traction.
Active Physical Therapy Techniques for a Herniated Disc in the Lower Back
The active treatments for a lower back disc herniation help to improve flexibility, optimize posture, build strength, improve the stability of the joints, and enhance the movements of the joints.
Examples of these treatments include core stability exercises, flexibility exercises, hydrotherapy, and exercises that strengthen the muscles.
How Do I Get Started with Physical Therapy?
If you’re interested in getting started with physical therapy to overcome the symptoms of your herniated disc search the internet or ask your physician for a referral. In many states, insurance will cover Physical Therapy First.