The first sign you have a herniated disc usually is a serious and painful jolt radiating down the arm or leg. Something as simple as bending down to pick up your shoe can trigger searing pain.
When discs that cushion the bones in your spine herniate — that is, bulge or spill out of the spaces where they belong — it can end up putting pressure on spinal nerves.
HOW DO DISCS BECOME HERNIATED?
One way to understand this process is to picture the bones in your spine, called vertebrae. One way your back twists, flexes and absorbs shock is with the help of thin cushions between spinal bones called discs.
Imagine these discs have the consistency of marshmallows in the middle — with a strong, fibrous outer surface to keep the spongy stuff contained.Simple things we do every day — like bending forward to pick up that shoe, or sitting with poor posture — can slowly damage and displace discs. Years later you may end up with that painful jolt because your disc has finally bulged or slipped too far — or maybe the “marshmallow” inside it leaked out. The result: Pressure on spinal nerves leading to pain, or inflammation.
Sounds ominous, right? Like cause for surgery? Actually, no. In many cases herniated discs can be fixed without surgery. And our philosophy has always been surgery as an absolute last resort.
With herniation, we instead suggest our patients do stretching and light exercise to ease the discs back to where they belong.
Here are a few we recommend:
The first stretch can be done right when you wake up.
When you awaken, move your pillow aside and stay flat on your belly; your arms resting at your sides.
Face your head down and relax there for a minute or so.
The idea here is to create subtle pressure on the protruding disc, attempting to push it back where it belongs between the spinal bones.
Now climb out of bed and get on the floor, or a soft surface like a yoga mat, into the same position you were on in bed.
You may choose to have your knees and big toes touching — or leave a few inches between them — then breathe in while fanning your arms outward and laying them flat next to your chest area.
Lift your chin a few inches so that it’s parallel with the floor. If this is enough stretching for you, stay here.
Otherwise, push down on your hands and lift your upper body — slowly.
Lift your upper body to about your belly — while avoiding lifting your pelvis — and hold for 15 seconds, or longer if you can.
Finally, stand up and place your hands on your low back and ensure your legs are hip’s width distance apart.
Breathe in deeply, and as you breathe out, slowly drop your head back. This process should create a subtle backward stretch in your low back.
Try and avoid jutting your hips forward. Let your neck and gravity do their job to get you into a mellow backward stretch.
The effect, as with the previous two stretches, is to try and ease the slipped disc back into place.
WHEN SHOULD YOU BE MORE AGGRESSIVE?
There are other things that may help — like opposite side stretches if your disc is bulging on a particular side of the spinal column.
If any these stretches don’t relieve the pain after a few weeks, you may need more aggressive physical therapy.
Signs that a herniated disc requires more significant intervention include:
- Pain that does not go away after several weeks or months
- Weakness in the extremities
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
If you have a herniated disc or any other serious back problem, and need help, reach out to us online or give us a call. We are happy to help.