Dr. Robert Woelkers, PT, DPT, CSCS

It is very common that individuals will experience some type of lower back pain throughout their life. Some individuals will experience short episodes of lower back pain. Others experience more long lasting effects. These long lasting events can lead to years of prescription medication, injection(s) and even surgery. Today we will discuss herniated disc and what causes them. 

Herniated Disc: What is it?

A disc, is made up of two parts, the annulus and the nucleus, and it is a piece of cartilage that sits between two vertebrates. Think of a disc as a nice Bavarian creme doughnut where the annulus is the outside and the nucleus is the creme on the inside. Over time the cream “nucleus”starts to reduce and the outside of the doughnut “annulus” starts to breakdown. This breakdown can lead to a herniated disc with overuse, repetitive motions, and heavy loads on the spine. This is where the creme starts to push its way out of the doughnut. You better have a napkin ready.

Normal vs. Herniated Disc (MyHealth, 2016)

Herniated Disc: What are the Risk Factors?

The top four risk factors for developing a herniated disc are Age, Obesity, Occupation and Sedentary Lifestyle. Most Individuals who sustain a herniated disc are between the ages 25-50 years old. Excessive weight results in excessive pressure on the discs. Individuals who have to perform repetitive bending, lifting and pulling motions for their occupation are also at risk. People who live a sedentary lifestyle are no longer able to handle more intense activities.

Herniated Disc: What are the signs and symptoms?

The signs and symptoms of a herniated disc are pain, numbness,  and weakness that is localized to the back or down the leg(s). The severity of the symptoms depends on how much of the disc is pressing on the nerve located in the general proximity. Pain usually increases when individuals sit, drive, bend, lift and twist. The AM is usually the worst, and individuals prefer to stand over sit. When a nerve is being compressed, standing takes the pressure off the nerve.

Herniated Disc: Self Test

As you are reading this article, if you are experiencing pain in your back or lower leg. I want you to sit in a chair. If you are already seated, move the chair away from any table or objects and give yourself room. Tuck your chin down towards your chest, extend your knee of the affected side so that your leg is straight. Raise your affected leg off the ground and hold for about 5-10 seconds. If this causes pain, hold the position, but now extend your head back and look up towards the ceiling. If this causes a release in symptoms you have a high possibility of having a herniated disc. In no change in symptoms repeat on the opposite side.

Disc Herniation

Disc Herniation Test

Herniated Disc: Treatment

Herniated Discs can be treated using a five step process: Exercise, Mobilization, Medication, Injection and Surgery. At Haymarket Physical Therapy we can start your recovery by focusing on Phase 1 (Exercise) and Phase 2 (Mobilization), while preventing medications, injections and surgery. The number one biggest mistake individuals with herniated disc and lower back pain is they ignore the problem. If you had pain with the self-test above, it is a good indication that you should consult with one of our Lower Back and Sciatica Pain Specialists at this time.

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