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Herniated Disc in New Jersey

If you have pain in your arm or leg, weakness, numbness or tingling, you may have a herniated disc. At Performance Rehabilitation, we offer physical therapy for herniated discs for patients in Totowa, Lafayette Township and other communities in New Jersey.

What is a Herniated Disc (Bulging Disc)?

A spinal disc is located between each vertebrae of the spine, and these discs resemble a jelly doughnut with a soft center encased within a tough rubbery exterior. Occasionally, one of these discs become herniated as some of the interior substance pushes through a crack in the outer surface. This health condition of the spine is often referred to as a ruptured or slipped disc, and it causes pain in the back as it irritates nearby nerves. Additional symptoms of a herniated disc include weakness or numbness in a leg or arm. However, many people with a herniated disc have no symptoms and do not require surgery to correct the condition.  With a bulging disc, the central disc material does not leak out but simply bulges and remains contained by the outer, fibrous rings of the disc. It is a precursor to a herniated disc and can resolve quickly with proper orthopedic manual physical therapy intervention.

What Causes a Herniated Disc?

Most herniated discs are a result of the natural aging process that causes gradual degeneration from wear and tear. As people age, the intervertebral discs become less flexible due to loss of water content, leading to a higher chance of ruptures or tears due to a simple movement such as twisting while playing sports or straining while lifting something heavy. Poor posture and a sedentary lifestyle are major risk factors for the development of a disc problem

In many cases, it is the result of using the back muscles rather than the leg muscles to lift heavy objects. A less likely reason to have a herniated disc is from a trauma injury such as a blow to the back.

What are the Symptoms of Herniated Discs?

A herniated disc is often painful, occasionally causing discomfort in the neck or more often in the lower back. An individual can have a herniated disc without realizing it until undergoing medical imaging tests of the spine. Herniated discs often cause specific symptoms.

  • Leg or Arm Pain

When a herniated disc is in the lumbar region of the back, an individual will typically experience intense pain in the calves, thighs or buttocks. If a disc is herniated in the neck, then pain usually radiates to the shoulder, arm, hand, and fingers. The pain from herniated discs increases when someone sneezes or moves the spine into a particular position.

  • Tingling or Numbness

Another sign that indicates someone has a herniated disc is when there is tingling or numbness in a body part associated with the pinched nerves.

  • Weakness

The damaged nerves from a herniated disc can lead to muscle weakness that makes it difficult to hold objects, and increases the chances of falling.

How do Physical Therapists Diagnose a Herniated Disc?

To determine if an individual has a herniated disc, we will check for tenderness in the back during a physical examination. Posture is assessed, and the observation of a shift to the left or right away from the pain is often present. The physical therapists then has the patient perform specific movements to identify repetitive movements that either make the pain worse (peripheralize or increase in the arm or leg) or centralize (pain eliminates from the extremity to the spine). As needed, the physical therapist may perform a neurological examination to check a patient’s:

  • Muscle strength
  • Reflexes
  • Ability to walk
  • Ability to feel vibrations, pinpricks or light touches

Most herniated disc diagnoses are made with only a medical history and physical examination, but a physician suspecting another condition may request imaging tests such as these:

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • CT scans
  • EMG (electomyographic testing)

Home Care for Herniated Disc

To help with relieving the pain of a herniated disc, an individual can take over-the-counter medications containing naproxen or ibuprofen, including Aleve, Motrin IB or Advil as advised by the physician. Ice packs are helpful in the beginning stages of a herniated disc to reduce inflammation, but after a few days, change to using mild heat from a heating pad to decrease pain. Performance of the specific exercises given by your therapist may have to be done hourly to help reduce the disc herniation. Proper posture and positioning is also critical in helping the herniated disc to resolve. A return to walking has also been proven to facilitate healing, perfusion to the disc, and increased endurance.

How to Prevent a Herniated Disc

Taking care of your back in order to prevent a herniated disc is vitally important to avoid this painful condition. Here are a few ways to avoid herniated discs:

  • Maintain a Healthy Body Weight

Avoid gaining excess pounds that add pressure to the body’s sensitive spine, making a herniated disc more likely.

  • Exercise Each Day

By strengthening the muscles located in the trunk of the body, including the abdomen, the spine has more support and stabilization to prevent a herniated disc. It is critical that patients learn how to strengthen the core spinal muscles before advancing with many of the fitness driven, more athletic core exercises such as planking. Missing this crucial neuromuscular control and development puts the patient at risk for injury.

  • Maintain Excellent Posture

Proper posture while walking, sitting and standing reduces the pressure on the sensitive nerves in the spine’s discs. Make it a habit to sit with your back straight and the spine aligned to avoid damaging the back’s discs. Learn how to lift heavy items correctly by using the strength of the muscles in the thighs and lower legs rather than the back.

Aging, improper posture and other factors increase your risk for herniated discs. The physical therapists at Performance Rehabilitation are experts in treating herniated discs and educating patients to prevent the progressive nature of this disorder through proper postural and body mechanics instruction. Contact us to schedule a personal consultation at our Totowa and Lafayette Township facility in New Jersey.