For individuals experiencing the pain and discomfort that comes with a bulging or herniated disc, finding relief is a top priority. Whether you’re a fitness enthusiast or a patient on the mend, implementing a targeted physical therapy approach can be the steppingstone to experiencing long-lasting relief. In this blog, we’ll dive into the world of bulging and herniated disc physical therapy, discussing action plans to alleviate pain, improve mobility, return to recreational activity and restore overall function. Follow along as we explore various therapeutic techniques and learn how to incorporate them into your recovery journey with the guidance from BioFix Physical Therapy and Fitness.
1. Knowledge is Power: Understanding Bulging and Herniated Discs
While many factors can contribute to a bulging disc, a better understanding of the spine’s anatomy is crucial for learning to manage its symptoms effectively. The spine is made up of vertebral segments, and between these segments are rubbery, gel-like cushions called discs. These structures provide flexibility and support for the spine while also absorbing shock during daily activities. A bulging disc occurs when the outer layer of a spinal disc, the annulus, pushes out of its normal position and in severe circumstances press against nerves. This can trigger an array of symptoms like local pain in the small of the back or the infamous sciatic radiating leg or glute pain symptoms. Sciatica occurs when a nerve root or roots in the low back are compressed and subsequently send radiating signals into the buttocks or often down the thigh and into the lower leg and foot. Symptoms can also consist of numbness, and weakness in the affected area, which may intensify without proper physical therapy intervention.
2. Identify the Triggers: Knowing What Causes Your Pain
One of the first steps in establishing a personalized physical therapy plan is to identify the pain triggers. By working with a physical therapist, you can pinpoint the specific movements or activities that exacerbate your symptoms. Identifying spinal movement sensitivities is critical at establishing which activities will alleviate symptoms and which exacerbate symptoms. Traditionally bending forward at the waist will increase low back and radiating leg pain for those with bulging or herniated discs, while placing hands on hips and arching the low back while looking toward the ceiling may provide relief. An integral aspect of this process at BioFix Physical Therapy and Fitness will consist of conducting a thorough evaluation to assess your posture, flexibility, muscle strength, functional movements and establishing the movement sensitivities mentioned above. This information helps to tailor a holistic approach that deals with the root causes of your bulging or herniated disc, giving you and your therapist the tools needed to create an individualized treatment plan that specifically caters to your goals.
3. Restorative and Preventive: Core Strengthening Exercises
A core physical therapy principle of treating a bulging or herniated disc is building strength, endurance, and resilience in the surrounding trunk muscles. This not only helps to alleviate pain but also serves as a preventive measure for future injuries. At BioFix we will provide exercises that target the muscles in the lower back, abdomen, hip, and pelvic regions. Creating a strong what I like to refer to as the muscular corset is integral in this process. If you think of the muscles that wrap around the spine, the trunk muscles, as three distinct regions, the low back, abdominal region and lateral/oblique region. When these 3 regions are working optimally, they effectively sinch the low back region, like a corset, and create optimal stability and help reduce low back pain and any associated radiating symptoms. The key here is focusing on slow and controlled movements that provide proper support for the spine.
4. Flexibility and Mobility: Stretching and Range of Motion Exercises
To ensure your recovery journey is comprehensive, incorporating stretching exercises and techniques that promote range of motion will go a long way in improving spinal mobility. Activities like knee-to-chest stretch, figure four stretch and cat-cow stretch will help release tension in the surrounding muscles. Range of motion exercises specifically targeting the back, hips, and neurodynamic tension are ideal. Increased neurodynamic tension can lead to an overstimulated nervous system and contribute to radiating leg pain. Nerve glides are specifically designed movement combinations that increase tension to a nerve at specific point while simultaneously placing slack on the same nerve at a different part of the body. This synchronized movement help decrease nerve irritability, reduce nerve tension and normalize neurodynamic tension.
5. Take Charge: The Importance of Home Exercise Programs
While working with a physical therapist is instrumental in your recovery journey, an essential aspect of bulging/herniated disc physical therapy is the development of a home exercise program. Combatting the physical and mental challenges associated with disc pathology is an ongoing process, and having a routine you can follow independently helps you stay consistent with your recovery goals. At Biofix we will customize a home exercise program designed to help decrease pain and get you back to doing the activities you love.
The road to recovery from a bulging or herniated disc can seem daunting, but with a customized physical therapy regimen that strengthens your core, improves flexibility, and improves your biomechanics/functional movement, true relief is possible. Always consult with a registered physical therapist when creating a personalized approach, and subsequently, transform the daily challenges into opportunities for growth and healing. By incorporating these proven strategies and committing to a home exercise program, you are well on your way to experiencing long-lasting relief and restored spinal health.