Discs are fibrocartilaginous spacers between your vertebrae. Vertebrae are the bones that make up the spine. A disc is composed of a harder ring of cartilage surrounding an inside of softer cartilage. Discs act to absorb shock throughout the spine and allow the spine to move efficiently. In some cases, the discs may move and protrude past the edge of the vertebrae, pressing on a nerve and resulting in pain. This is known as a bulging disc and pinched nerve. When the disc protrudes further and the inner ring of cartilage is exposed past the vertebral edge also pressing on a nerve, this is known as a disc herniation.
Discs can herniate and bulge in any part of the spine, but most commonly this occurs in the cervical or lumbar spine. Symptoms of the cervical or lumbar bulging or herniation include pain in the neck/low back or part of the arm or hand/leg and feet. Symptoms may be felt on R, L, or both sides. Some patients only experience pain in neck or back itself where the injury has occurred. Numbness and tingling may also be present depending on the severity of the injury. Symptoms may only be present with certain movements.
There are various reasons as to why you may experience a bulging or herniated disc, including dehydration of the discs over time as part of the natural aging process, overuse injury to the nerve, or injury to the spine. The most common causes of a herniated or bulging disc is posture related or repetitive movement with poor form (i.e. lifting).
Your physical therapist will perform a comprehensive evaluation of your mobility, strength, posture, and functional activities (such as walking). Cervical and lumbar herniated discs are usually affected by everyday postures and positions, and your therapist will always examine conditions outside the clinic such as seated postures, work positions, car positions, and other movement patterns which could contribute to your current symptoms.
Treatment and Exercises
The focus of physical therapy will be to relieve the pressure on the affected nerves through exercise and manual therapy techniques to achieve less pain, greater overall strength and core stability, and to prevent future re-injury. Exercises will be tailored to your goals and recreational activities to ensure you return to doing what you love most.
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