Do you sometimes feel pain like an electric shock radiating from your lower back down to your legs? Do you experience muscle weakness or numbness in your arms or legs? If so, be sure to schedule a consult with our Ann Arbor, MI office for a proper diagnosis. You just may have a herniated disc.
What is a Herniated Disc?
The vertebrae that comprise the spine are cushioned by discs. These discs are flat and round with an outer layer called the annulus, which surrounds a gel-like material called the nucleus. Discs are located in between each of the vertebrae in the spinal column. They act as shock absorbers.
Also referred to as a ruptured or bulged disc, a herniated disc occurs when the disc nucleus is moved out of the annulus and into the spinal canal. It’s important to note that the spinal canal has limited space, and this displacement often produces pain. A herniated disc can happen anywhere in the spine, including the lower back and cervical spine areas. The area of pain often depends on which area of the spine that the herniated disc occurs in.
Causes and Symptoms of a Herniated Disc
Injury or strain can be the cause of a herniated disc. Sometimes, a predisposition for a herniated disc may exist in families. In addition, the natural process of aging may be the culprit for a herniated disc. As one ages, the disc material degenerates naturally, and ligaments may tend to weaken. When this occurs, even a minor twisting motion can result in a herniated disc.
The symptoms of a herniated disc vary depending on the size of the herniated and where it’s located. If the disc isn’t compressing a nerve, there may be no pain. If it is compressing a nerve, pain, weakness and numbness may travel to the part of the body that the nerve is pressing on. Often, there is lower back pain.
Sciatica may occur in the lower lumbar spine. This is when there’s pressure on the sciatic nerve. Sciatica can cause burning, pain and numbness that radiates from the buttocks, down the leg and to the foot. It’s often a very sharp pain that may occur when sitting, walking or standing.
If a herniated disc occurs in the neck area, pain can result in the neck and between the shoulder blades.
This pain may radiate down the arm and to the fingers.
How Physical Therapy Helps
A physician may recommend physical therapy. A physical therapist will conduct an in-depth evaluation and outline specific treatment for patients with herniated discs. Physical therapy may include stretching exercises, massage, ice and heat therapy, electrical muscle stimulation, pelvic traction and ultrasound.
According to research, physical therapy often plays a big role in herniated disc recovery. Physical therapy entails a holistic approach with both active and passive treatments. Not only is pain relief a result of physical therapy, but a physical therapist will teach patients how to prevent further injury.