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Physical therapy for herniated discs

What is a herniated disc?

The bones (vertebrae) that make up the spine are separated and cushioned by small discs of cartilage, called vertebral discs. Round, flat, and consisting of a tough outer layer surrounding an inner jellylike material, vertebral discs essentially act as shock absorbers for the spine. When one of these discs is herniated, a fragment of the jellylike nucleus is pushed out of the outer layer and into the spinal canal, usually through a tear or rupture.

The displaced disc fragment can put pressure on the spinal nerves, causing discomfort, and in many cases, severe pain. Herniated discs can occur in any part of the spine, although they’re more common in the lower back.

Source: American Association of Neurological Surgeons

Herniated disc symptoms

Patients sometimes confuse the symptoms of a herniated disc with regular back pain. However, there are specific symptoms which can help distinguish the two. Firstly, herniated discs are more common in the lower part of the spine just above the hips, and can cause pain to spread down the back of the legs. Secondly, these symptoms tend to worsen when the patient is active — for example, when a patient coughs or sneezes.

Herniated discs located in the upper back or neck area present with different symptoms—pain, numbness, or tingling in the shoulder or arms, which can seem to shoot further down the arm when the patient moves.

The most common symptoms of a herniated disc include:

  • Arm or leg pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Weakness

Source: Mayo Clinic

What causes a herniated disc?

A disc herniation is typically the result of age-related wear and tear. With age, spinal discs lose water content, which makes them less flexible and more prone to tears or ruptures. Except for in rare cases, herniated discs usually aren’t caused by traumatic injuries like a fall or blow to the back. More often, they’re caused by aging and/or lifting heavy objects with improper form.

The most common causes of a herniated disc include:

  • Excess body weight
  • Repetitive lifting, pulling, pushing, or twisting
  • A genetic predisposition to developing a herniated disc
  • Aging

Source: Mayo Clinic

Physical therapy for a herniated disc

For patients with herniated discs, physical therapy offers both immediate pain relief and long-term injury prevention. Most physical therapy programs for herniated discs begin with passive treatments, including deep tissue massage, hot and cold therapy, hydrotherapy, electrical nerve stimulation, and traction.

Active treatments are the next step of the physical therapy program. While passive treatments reduce and prevent, active treatments are designed to improve flexibility and strength. Common active treatments include core stabilizing and muscle strengthening exercises, stretching, and water aerobics. As surgery is often not elected for this condition, physical therapy typically plays a major role in recovery.

Source: SpineUniverse

Luna’s physical therapists treat herniated discs
in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles

Luna’s physical therapists are experts in the treatment of herniated discs. Our licensed PTs can improve symptoms, reduce pain, prevent further injury, and help patients return to their normal lives through a combination of active and passive treatments.

With Luna, patients can get physical therapy for herniated discs whenever and wherever is most convenient for them — whether that’s home, the office, or the gym. It’s physical therapy, delivered.

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