Back pain can sneak up on you. You can be sitting on the sofa in front of the TV, get up for a snack, and all of a sudden feel a sharp pain radiating through your back when you stand up. Is it just regular-old back pain, or did something really go wrong? You just might have a herniated disc. The spine has 26 bones cushioned by discs made of a gel-like substance. This is what gives the spine flexibility. But when a disc slips out of place, it can cause back pain because it irritates the surrounding nerves. This condition is often referred to as a ruptured or herniated disc. If you’ve got back pain, it just may be a herniated disc. Be sure to give us a call for an evaluation by our physical therapist.
1. The Diagnosis of a Herniated Disc
One way you can determine if it’s a herniated disc is by where the pain is located. Often, pain may be in the lower part of your back or spread to the buttocks and through the calves. Sitting, sneezing, and coughing may flare up the symptoms, as these activities put pressure on the pinched nerves.
The best way to figure out if you have a herniated disc is to visit your physician. In addition to a physical exam, your doctor may order tests like x-rays, myelogram, CT scan, MRI, or electromyogram. With a myelogram, dye is injected into the spinal fluid, and an x-ray is taken to locate the pressure. A CT scan takes several pictures from different angles and creates images of the spinal cord and surrounding structures. An MRI provides detailed, 3D images of the spinal cord. It can also locate the position of a herniated disc and see what nerves are being affected. Electromyogram checks to see if any nerves are compressed or damaged. A needle electrode is placed into a muscle to determine what nerves are impinged upon.
2. Physical Therapy for Herniated Disc
A physical therapist can help improve the symptoms of a herniated disc. A treatment plan typically includes stretching exercises and strengthening exercises. The goal of physical therapy is to relieve back pain and help improve daily function. Other treatments may include massage therapy, ice and heat therapy, ultrasound, and electric muscle stimulation (EMS).
Massage therapy will not “cure” a herniated disc, but it can help alleviate pain. Massage therapists work around an affected area by massaging surrounding muscles and tissues. They also have tools to loosen tight muscles around a herniated disc. Massage therapy also increases blood flow and enhances the healing process.
EMS blocks the transmission of pain signals to the brain. It also promotes production and release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers. Cold therapy may be used to reduce inflammation, and heat therapy may be used to reduce pain and stimulate healing.
It’s important to note that physical therapy by a physical therapist is a noninvasive and holistic approach to treating a herniated disc. If you’re suffering from a herniated disc, contact Orthopedic and Balance Therapy to schedule an appointment. Our physical therapists will help reduce your pain and get you on the road to recovery.