Struggling With Back Pain? A Herniated Disc Might Be The Reason Why!


Strange neck pains, back pains, or extremity symptoms can indicate a variety of potential problems – including one or more herniated discs. A herniated disc can occur anywhere in your spine.

You might be wondering, how can you tell for sure whether you have this specific problem? And if you do have a herniated disc, what can you do about it? These questions don’t have to add confusion and frustration to your physical woes. At our physical therapy clinic, we see disc herniations frequently among our patients with back, arm, and/or leg pain.

If you believe your pain and dysfunction is caused by a herniated disc, we encourage you to contact us today to schedule an appointment with a physical therapist. Our skilled and experienced team of movement specialists can help you understand the source of your symptoms and heal the injured disc so you can experience long-lasting pain relief.

What is a herniated disc?

You may have heard of herniated discs in the past, but they were called something else, such as a “slipped disc,” or a “ruptured disc.” These are all just different ways of describing the same physical problem!

So, what does it mean to have one?

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 most damage and shock.

Unfortunately, this kind of toughness, like anything else, has its limits. Sometimes disc become dehydrated over time, which can result in 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, causing what you know to be a herniated disc.

Herniated discs can also occur suddenly due to an auto accident, workplace accident, or sports injury that traumatizes the spine. There are many risk factors for developing one as well.

Risk factors for herniated discs

When you see a physical therapist for back pain or herniated disc pain, they will assess you for risk factors known to be linked to herniated discs. Many of these are unpreventable (gender and age) but others are lifestyle habits, including:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Male gender
  • Acute trauma
  • Age between 30 and 50
  • Frequent bending, heavy lifting, or twisting
  • Physically demanding occupation

Symptoms of herniated discs

Spinal discs are small soft structures found between vertebral bones. Their main jobs are to absorb shock and maximize mobility within the spine. On the outside, these discs are tough and fibrous, but on the inside, they are soft and have a gel-like consistency.

A herniated disc occurs when the tough outer layer of the disc (called the annulus fibrosis) ruptures. This allows the inner gel substance (called the nucleus pulposus) to leak out. The ruptured disc tissue can trigger an inflammatory response and compress nearby structures, including joint receptors and spinal nerve roots.

You might be wondering what symptoms you should be on the lookout for when it comes to herniated disc pain. Surprisingly enough, not all herniated discs will lead to pain, however, when a herniated disc does cause symptoms, these symptoms often include:

  • Your pain worsens with forward flexion or prolonged sitting—forward flexion may also cause the pain to “peripheralized” or move further away from the spine
  • Your pain that improves or moves toward the spine with spinal extension, such as when lying down
  • You experience arm or leg pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness, which occurs when the disc compresses on an adjacent nerve root that innervates the affected limb
  • You experience neck pain, back pain, muscle spasms, or stiffness at the level of the injured disc

How can physical therapy help relieve herniated disc pain?

Research shows that physical therapy is effective for treating herniated discs. If your symptoms are affecting your activities of daily life or work, or if your symptoms persist for longer than two weeks, it’s a good idea to contact a physical therapist. Physical therapy may also be indicated if you’ve been told by a surgeon that you could need spinal surgery to fix the herniation.

In many cases, surgeons ask their patients to work with a physical therapist before undergoing a spinal fusion or disc decompression procedure to preemptively improve core strength and spinal health. This can improve surgical outcomes and reduce the risk of complications afterward.

In addition to analyzing your symptoms and performing various tests and measures, a physical therapist can help you determine if you have a herniated disc by assessing your lifestyle and medical history.

Physical therapy treatment methods such as spinal traction, corrective exercises, and non-invasive techniques like electrical stimulation or diathermy can heal the injured disc, alleviate pain, and help you avoid future injuries.

Ready to get back to a normal, pain-free life?

Are you still struggling with the pains of a herniated disc? This kind of pain isn’t going to relieve itself! Even if it’s not entirely clear whether you have a herniated disc, our services can still help.

Consult with a physical therapist today to get started on the path toward pain relief.

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