Back pain can be one of life’s most debilitating and painful experiences, preventing you from working or just accomplishing basic tasks around the house. A lot of the back issues center around the discs, which are gel-like material made up of collagen and fluid that are situated between each of the vertebrae in the spine. They act as a kind of shock absorber and give our spines the flexibility that they have. However, discs can degenerate or lose fluid over time, which can cause decreased flexibility, pain or additional disc issues. In addition to age, discs can also be injured from strenuous physical activity, unexpected force or even everyday activities.
What is a Bulging Disc?
A bulging disc is one of the most common causes of back pain, and this is caused by the fluid in the disc being pushed further to one side and bulging out slightly beyond the spine. Because there are a ton of nerve endings in the outer area of a disc, this can be extremely painful.
Is a Bulging Disc Permanent?
Thankfully, there are steps that can be taken to help alleviate a bulging disc. Movement and exercise, while they might seem counterintuitive, are extremely beneficial in the healing process because movement encourages blood flow to the area which helps with healing. Bulging disc physical therapy is also highly recommended and effective. While occasionally surgery is an option to remove the bulge, recent studies have shown that this causes a whole host of other issues with the scar tissue and can even worsen the back pain long term. The main goal should be to heal the disc, not just cut it out, which is why physical therapy can be a much better option.
What Is Bulging Disc Physical Therapy?
Discs often heal very poorly. This can be because of doing the incorrect movements or not moving enough. Seeing a trained professional for your bulging disc physical therapy is so important to a successful recovery. They can examine the state of your bulging disc and implement a variety of different techniques to encourage healing without the risk of further healing.
Bulging disc physical therapy usually involves a combination of:
- Pain control techniques
- Therapeutic exercises
- Massage therapy
- Functional training practices
- Decompression therapy
The combination of these techniques helps to reduce inflammation, increase blood flow to the area and strengthen the back and abdominal muscles to encourage healing and prevent further injury.
Your physical therapist will generally walk you through a series of movements to determine which exercises will be most effective for you. This could involve joint immobilization, traction of joints or muscles, stretching of the muscles around the bulging disc to improve strength and flexibility. He or she will also tell you which activities to avoid that could exacerbate the problem.
How Long Will It Take to Recover with Bulging Disc Physical Therapy?
While recovery time will vary from patient to patient, based on individual health conditions and the severity of the injury, there is a general timeline of what you can expect for your recovery.
Often the first step in identifying a bulging disc is an MRI. X-rays can’t always accurately show what is going on with the discs in the spine. Some bulging in the discs is common and may cause very little or no pain. The main concern is if there is any injury to the disc or it is pinching a nerve and causing pain. This can cause not only back pain but residual pain or numbness down the same side leg.
Diagnosis can also be done by your physical therapists by getting additional information about where you are feeling pain, the acuteness of the pain and what the pain is inhibiting you from accomplishing in your daily life. They will then perform a series of tests on your body to determine what areas are experiencing tightness, restricted movement, stiffness, heightened sensation or difficulty walking.
After a diagnosis is reached, you can move on to the treatment phase, which generally involves a combination of manual therapy, electrical stimulation therapy and movement. This phase can take anywhere from two to eight weeks depending on the severity of the injury and the frequency of physical therapy.
During the first 24-48 hours after diagnosis, you may be advised to avoid movements that aggravate the pain, but to stay active with light movements such as walking or swimming. You can also utilize ice packs to the affected area to help with pain and swelling.
The first phase of treatment revolves around reducing pain. To do this, avoid or modify activities that could further the injury and start performing light movements to get the blood flowing to the area. Your physical therapist will work with you on improving posture, strength, motion and flexibility through targeted movements or exercises. These will probably be a mixture of passive movements, ones performed on you by your physical therapist, or active movements, which you do yourself. A key aspect of these exercises is core strengthening, which helps improve the overall strength of your muscles and creates a stronger foundation for recovery.
3. Home Recovery
Once your physical therapist has worked with you to reduce pain and begin the healing process, they will generally give you a series of exercises to continue at home to ensure the continued healing of the spine and prevent further injuries. They will work with you to make sure that you are doing the movements in the proper way to ensure there is no further injury to the spine. This phase can last anywhere from a few months to a few years. It is often recommended to incorporate these exercises into your daily life permanently to maintain the health of your spine.