Herniated Discs: Could This be Causing Your Back Pain?

Herniated disc may be causing your back pain

Your spine is a complex part of the body. It is comprised of 24 bones, and 5 of them are located in the lower back. In between the vertebrae are shock absorbers called intervertebral discs. The goal of the spine is to protect the spinal cord and nerves exiting to other parts of the body and provide support for all of you bodies movements. At times, the jelly-like nucleus of these discs can “herniate,” or protrude, through the tough ligamentous covering. Herniated discs can occur anywhere along the spine, and they are most often found in the lower back.


Generally, lower back pain is the first symptom of this a herniated disc. Other symptoms may include numbness or weakness in the legs, shooting pain down the back of one leg, or loss of bladder control if the disc irritates the surrounding nerves. Back pain can range from moderate to severe. If you are experiencing back pain and you think it may be the result of a herniated disc, call our office today to see how physical therapy can help you get back to your best life.


What causes herniated discs?

Herniated discs can be caused by traumatic injuries or gradually develop over time by repetitive microtrauma. The discs in the spine contain a high water content when we’re young, but as we age that water content gradually decreases. This causes the discs to shrink. Therefore, the older we get, the more prone we become to disc degeneration. Other risk factors that can make you more prone to herniated discs include:

  • Being male.
  • Being overweight.
  • Being between the ages of 20-50.
  • Engaging in improper lifting techniques.
  • Driving frequently.
  • Engaging in a sedentary lifestyle.

How do I know if I have a herniated disc?

If you have back pain and believe you may be suffering from a herniated disc, it is important seek treatment. Your physical therapist will perform a physical exam to assess muscle strength and sensation to see if you have signs of a disc herniation, and he or she may also conduct a neurological exam. If you have had sudden loss of bowel or bladder control, this may be a medical emergency and should be evaluated by a medical doctor.

If your physical therapist believes your disc is herniated, they will evaluate which treatments can relieve your spine symptoms and/or leg symptoms. Various treatment options exist and a thorough examination will help determine which is best for you. Research shows early physical therapy intervention can help decrease medical costs and improve outcomes. If your physical therapist finds multiple “red flags”, they may refer you to a physician for additional evaluation and/or treatment. 

Specific physical therapy treatments:

Directional preference exercises: Certain movements can help relieve your symptoms and decrease irritation to the spine and nerve structures. Your physical therapist can help you determine which movements, how intense, and how often these should be done.

Strengthening and stabilization exercises: The muscles around the spine help maintain stability and can limit stress through the spine. Specific stabilization exercises can be used to help you move better with less pain and difficulty.

Passive physical treatments: Other treatments can also be used include deep tissue massage, hot and cold therapy, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and traction which can help with pain relief.

Deep tissue massage utilizes pressure to relieve muscle tension and spasms. Hot therapy may be used to increase blood flow to the target area to accelerate healing. Cold therapy can help reduce inflammation. The TENS machine uses an electrical current that triggers the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers. Traction may be implemented to reduce pressure on the spine.

Your physical therapist will also give you self-care advice that you can implement on your own, in order to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.

Physical therapy has been proven to be effective for low back pain and disc herniation. It is a noninvasive alternative to surgery and a natural way to relieve pain without the need for harmful drugs. If you are suffering from back pain or a disc herniation, click here, give our Sioux Center location a call at 712-722-1902, or call our Sheldon location at 712-324-0110 to schedule a consultation today. Our experienced and certified physical therapists would be happy to help you get you started on your process toward long-lasting pain relief and improving your function.

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