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How To Treat A Herniated Disc In Lower Back

Symptoms Of Herniated Lumbar Disc:

How To Fix A Bulged Low Back Disc WITHOUT Surgery

Lower back pain Leg pain Leg numbness or tingling Pain is worse from sitting Restricted trunk flexionSciatica pain

Please note, a herniated disc DOESNT always cause pain, so you must get a proper diagnosis.


What does a herniated disc feel like?

Lower back pain is typically the first symptom of a lumbar disc herniation. Often this pain will last for a few days and then subside, but leg pain, numbness or tingling, and/or weakness of the lower extremity often follows.

Typically the leg pain eventually travels below the knee and can even affect the ankle and foot.

How long does the pain last?

Most patients with a lumbar disc herniation will improve gradually over a period of days to weeks, with most patients being symptom free within 3 to 4 months.

Exercise works.

Patients that actively participate in an exercise program often report a significant reduction of pain and improved ability to perform their activities of daily living.

Herniated Disc Treatment Tips

If you are wondering how to heal a herniated disc, there are several possible ways. But first, lets talk about what a herniated disc is.

The spinal canal created by your vertebrae houses your spinal cord, from which your spinal nerves emerge. A herniated disc occurs when some of the nuclei of one of the cushioning discs between two vertebrae push outward onto spinal nerve roots, causing pain.

Most frequently, a herniated disc occurs in the lumbar spine of the lower back, though it can potentially happen between any two vertebrae in the spinal column.

A disc herniation can cause a variety of symptoms, including back pain, leg pain, arm pain, muscle weakness, and tingling or numbness in the areas supplied by the affected nerves. Its also possible to have a disk herniation without any symptoms .

If you have a herniated disc, you may be wondering what treatment options are available to you or if there are things you can do to help relieve pain. Fortunately, we have a list of seven pain management tips for you to follow. Give them a try and see if your pain subsides.

Fixing The Root Cause

Now that your pain is relieved, you can focus on treating the root cause of your pinched nerve.

The best way to do that is by rebuilding the support structure of your back.

A healthy back comes from within. You cant fix it with a pill. You cant get it from a gadget. And the surgeon cant install it on the operating table .

Consider physically rebuilding your back support system.

In simpler terms restore the muscle balances in your lower back.

You can learn more about muscle imbalances, how they caused your pinched nerve in the first place, and how to fix them HERE.

What have you tried so far to fix your pinched nerve? Share with us in the comments below.

To your health and happiness,


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Heat And Cold Therapy Can Help Relieve Muscle Tension And Pain

Applying heat and/or cold therapy to the lower back can alleviate muscle tension that is commonly present with a lumbar herniated disc. Heat helps loosen the muscle tightness that causes spasms, increases blood flow, and improves elasticity of connective tissue.1 Cold decreases the local tissue temperature which produces an analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect, thus reducing pain.2

  • Apply heat to your back in the morning or prior to stretching/exercise to decrease muscle tension.
  • See Ice Packs for Back Pain Relief

  • Other means of heat delivery include adhesive heat wrap , warm bath, and/or shower at the end of the day.

Try several options and see what works best for you. The type of heat and how you use it is often a matter of personal preference.

Prescription Medications For Herniated Discs

Herniated Disc Exercises for Fast Results
  • Prescription NSAIDs: Prescription-strength NSAIDs are available if the over-the-counter variety proves unsuccessful.

  • : Spinal muscle spasms often accompany herniated disc. In such cases, a muscle relaxant may provide relief.

  • Oral steroids: Oral steroids may be effective at reducing swelling. These medications are prescribed for short-term use. Multiple adverse effects have been associated with prolonged steroid use.

  • Opioids : Narcotic pain medications help alleviate acute and/or intense pain and are prescribed cautiously only when pain is severe. Note that many patients develop a tolerance to opioids and require higher doses to get relief. These pain medications can also be addictive, so use them only under careful supervision.

  • Anti-depressants: Anti-depressants block pain messages from getting to your brain and increase the effects of endorphins, which are essentially your body’s natural painkillers. Another added benefitanti-depressants help you sleep better.

Read Also: Is Sleeping On The Floor Good For Lower Back Pain

How Is It Diagnosed

Your physical therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation that includes taking your health history. Your physical therapist will also ask you detailed questions about your injury, such as:

  • How and when did the pain start?
  • At what time of day is it worse?
  • What type of discomfort do you feel, and where do you feel it?
  • What canât you do right now, in your daily life, due to the pain?

Your physical therapist will perform tests on your body to find physical problems, such as:

  • Difficulty moving.

How Can I Avoid Getting A Herniated Disk

It’s not always possible to prevent a herniated disk. But you can reduce your risk by:

  • Using proper lifting techniques. Dont bend at the waist. Bend your knees while keeping your back straight. Use your strong leg muscles to help support the load.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. Excess weight puts pressure on the lower back.
  • Practicing good posture. Learn how to improve your posture when you walk, sit, stand and sleep. Good posture reduces strain on your spine.
  • Stretching. Its especially important to take stretching breaks if you often sit for long periods.
  • Avoiding wearing high-heeled shoes. This type of shoe throws your spine out of alignment.
  • Exercising regularly. Focus on workouts that strengthen your back and abdomen muscles to support your spine.
  • Stopping smoking. Smoking can weaken disks, making them vulnerable to rupture. Consider quitting smoking.

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Medical History And Physical Examination

After discussing your symptoms and medical history, your doctor will perform a physical examination. The exam may include the following tests:

  • Neurological examination. A neurological examination will help your doctor determine if you have any muscle weakness or loss of sensation. During the exam, the doctor will:
  • Check muscle strength in your lower leg by assessing how you walk on both your heels and toes. Muscle strength in other parts of your body may also be tested.
  • Detect loss of sensation by checking whether you can feel a light touch on your leg and foot.
  • Test your reflexes at the knee and ankle. These may sometimes be absent if there is a compressed nerve root in your spine.
  • Straight leg raise test. This is a specialized test to predict if a disk herniation in present, especially in younger patients. During the test, you lie on your back and your doctor carefully lifts your affected leg. Your knee stays straight. If you feel pain down your leg and below the knee, it is a strong indication that you have a herniated disk.
  • Clinical photo of a doctor performing the straight leg raise test.

    Reproduced from JF Sarwak, ed: Essentials of Musculoskeletal Care, ed. 4. Rosemont, IL, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2010.

    Life After A Herniated Disc

    Herniated Disc Exercises & Stretches – Ask Doctor Jo

    If weakness and a lack of movement contributed to the disc herniation, it goes without saying that certain lifestyle changes will make a big impact on preventing a recurrence of the problem. Gentle activity like walking helps, or specific exercise classes to stay flexible and strong, such as pilates may benefit. Of course, we want people to be more aware of their posture and hydration.

    Most people fully recover from a herniated disc and it is important people get the right advice from a registered professional. The goal of most practitioners is to help people out of pain and onto a path of long term wellbeing.

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    What Happens To My Herniated Disc If I Dont Have Surgery

    A study of patients with different sized herniations showed that by six months to one year, herniated disc material had dissolved in many of the cases. The larger the herniation , the faster the material was reabsorbed.

    Long-term studies have shown that, although surgical intervention may generate a faster initial recovery time, conservative outcomes are equally effective in patients after five and 10 years .

    How To Treat A Bulging Disc

    Unless you have complications from the bulging disc, its worth trying some home treatments first. Complications can include:

    • Pain that interferes with daily activities or work
    • Lack of bladder or bowel control
    • Loss of sensation in areas that would touch a saddle if you were riding a horse like the back of the legs, buttocks or around the groin area.

    Home treatment can be useful for those with mild to moderate pain or at least until you can see a pain management specialist.

    Read Also: What Causes Pain In Your Upper Back And Chest

    Treatments For A Herniated Or Bulging Disc

    Frequently used treatment methods for relieving herniated disc pain include:

    Hot/cold therapy

    You may be able to get inflammation and pain relief by icing or using a heating pad on your lower back twice a day. If you can lie down on your stomach, you may wish to apply hot or cold therapy with a pillow placed below your hips for support. Set a 1015 minute timer while using heat or ice to relieve your pain so that you wont overdo it the last thing you want on top of a herniated disc is frostbite or a heating pad burn.

    Alleviating pressure and resting

    Doctors tend to suggest going about light daily activities rather than staying completely immobile, but there may be times when rest is the wisest option, especially if youre in a lot of pain. Bed rest would only ever be advisable for one or two days maximum. One way to relieve pressure on your lower back is to take whats known as the psoas position. It involves lying down on your back and resting your legs on a supportive platform while theyre bent at a 90-degree angle.


    Working with a physical therapist can play an important role in recovering from a herniated disc. They may help alleviate your pain through things like transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation which can help relieve muscle spasms or tensed muscles in the lower back. A physical therapist can also help recommend exercises that increase your core strength and stability to help prevent a herniated disc recurrence.

    OTC pain medication


    Physical Therapy Guide To Herniated Disk

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    Read Time:

    A herniated disk occurs when the cushion-like cartilage between the bones of the spine is torn, and the gelatin-like core of the disk leaks. Often mistakenly called a slipped disk, a herniated disk can be caused by sudden trauma or by long-term pressure on the spine. This condition most often affects people aged 30 to 50 years men are twice as likely to be diagnosed as women. Repeated lifting, participating in weight-bearing sports, obesity, smoking, and poor posture are all risk factors for a herniated disk. The majority of herniated disks do not require surgery, and respond best to physical therapy. Physical therapists design personalized treatment programs to help people with herniated disks regain normal movement, reduce pain, and get back to their regular activities.

    Physical therapists are movement experts. They improve quality of life through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement. You can contact a physical therapist directly for an evaluation. To find a physical therapist in your area, visit Find a PT.

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    What Is Lumbar Disk Disease

    The vertebral column, or backbone, is made up of 33 vertebrae that are separated by spongy disks. The spine is divided into 4 areas:

    • Cervical spine: The first 7 vertebrae, located in the neck

    • Thoracic spine: The next 12 vertebrae, located in the chest area

    • Lumbar spine: The next 5 vertebrae, located in the lower back

    • Sacral spine: The lowest 5 vertebrae, located below the waist, also includes the 4 vertebrae that make up the tailbone

    The lumbar spine consists of 5 bony segments in the lower back area, which is where lumbar disk disease occurs.

    • Bulging disk. With age, the intervertebral disk may lose fluid and become dried out. As this happens, the spongy disk becomes compressed. This may lead to the breakdown of the tough outer ring. This lets the nucleus, or the inside of the ring, to bulge out. This is called a bulging disk.

    • Ruptured or herniated disk. As the disk continues to break down, or with continued stress on the spine, the inner nucleus pulposus may actually rupture out from the annulus. This is a ruptured, or herniated, disk. The fragments of disc material can then press on the nerve roots located just behind the disk space. This can cause pain, weakness, numbness, or changes in sensation.

    Most disk herniations happen in the lower lumbar spine, especially between the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae and between the fifth lumbar vertebra and the first sacral vertebra .

    More On Herniated Discs

    You might be wondering the difference between, say, a herniated disc and a bulging disc.

    A herniated disc is more like a disc opening and spilling its insides out, while a bulging disc is the disc stretching and protruding outward. Herniated discs are also called ruptured discs or slipped discs more often than bulging discs are. Compared to herniated discs, bulging discs are more common, and they might also go unnoticed more often since they can cause less pain. Then again, each persons symptoms are different.

    The main difference between the two is that a bulging disc is thought to be caused by pressure that forces the disc to stretch, while on the other hand a herniated disc is primarily caused from a crack developing in the tough outer layer of the discs cartilage. With a herniated disc, once a crack forms its possible for the discs softer inner cartilage to move through the crack and touch surrounding nerves, similar to what happens with a bulging disc.

    A herniated disc can also be a sign or symptom of other problems as well, such as:

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    What Are The Causes

    Discs can bulge or herniate because of injury and improper lifting or can occur spontaneously. Aging plays an important role. As you get older, your discs dry out and become harder. The tough fibrous outer wall of the disc may weaken. The gel-like nucleus may bulge or rupture through a tear in the disc wall, causing pain when it touches a nerve. Genetics, smoking, and a number of occupational and recreational activities may lead to early disc degeneration.

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    Causes, effects, and when surgery is right

    Between each of the bones in your spine is a disc. These discs act as shock absorbers and help cushion your bones. A herniated disc is one that extends beyond the capsule containing it and pushes into the spinal canal. You can have a herniated disc anywhere along your spine, even in your neck, but its most likely to occur in the lower back .

    You might develop a herniated disc from lifting something the wrong way or from suddenly twisting your spine. Other causes include being overweight and experiencing degeneration due to disease or aging.

    A herniated disc doesnt always cause pain or discomfort, but if it pushes against a nerve in your lower back, you may have pain in the back or legs . If a herniated disc occurs in your neck, you may have pain in your neck, shoulders, and arms. Besides pain, a herniated disc can lead to numbness, tingling, and weakness.

    Surgery involving the spine is typically not recommended until youve tried all other options. These may include:

    • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories
    • steroid injections

    If these are ineffective and you have persistent pain that is interfering with your quality of life, there are several surgical options.

    When considering surgery, make sure you see a qualified spine surgeon, and get a second opinion. Before recommending one surgical procedure over another, your surgeon will likely order imaging tests, which may include:

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    Can This Injury Or Condition Be Prevented

    To prevent experiencing a herniated disc, individuals should:

    • Use proper body mechanics when lifting, pushing, pulling, or performing any action that puts extra stress on your spine.
    • Maintain a healthy weight. This will reduce the stress on your spine.
    • Discuss your occupation with a physical therapist, who can provide an analysis of your job tasks and offer suggestions for reducing your risk of injury.
    • Keep your muscles strong and flexible. Participate in a consistent program of physical activity to maintain a healthy fitness level.

    Many physical therapy clinics offer “back schools,” which teach people how to take care of their backs and necks and prevent injury. Ask your physical therapist about programs in your area. If you don’t have a physical therapist, click on Find a PT to find a certified professional in your immediate area.

    To prevent recurrence of a herniated disc, follow the above advice, and:

    • Continue the new posture and movement habits that you learned from your physical therapist, to keep your back healthy.
    • Continue to do the home-exercise program your physical therapist taught you, to help maintain your improvements.
    • Continue to be physically active and stay fit.


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