Physical Therapy for Disc Herniations Series (Part 4)
How Can a Physical Therapist Help with a Disc Herniation?
In all but the most extreme cases, conservative care (such as physical therapy) often produces better results in treating a herniated disc than surgery or pain medications, such as opioids.
Your physical therapist will work with you to design a specific treatment program that will speed your recovery, including exercises and treatments that you can do at home. Physical therapy will help you return to your normal lifestyle and activities. The time it takes to heal the condition varies, but results can be achieved in 2 to 8 weeks or less, when a proper posture, pain-reduction, stretching, and strengthening program is implemented.
During the first 24 to 48 hours following your diagnosis of a herniated disc, your physical therapist may advise you to:
- Rest the area by avoiding any activity that causes worsening symptoms in the arms or legs.
- Avoid bed rest.
- Stay active around the house, and go on short walks several times per day. Movement will decrease pain and stiffness, and help you feel better.
- Apply ice packs to the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 hours.
- Sit in firm chairs. Soft couches and easy chairs may make your problems worse.
- Consult with a physician for further services, such as medications or diagnostic tests.
Some exercises are better for individuals with herniated discs. Your physical therapist will educate you about them. For example:
- Exercising in water can be a great way to stay physically active when other forms of exercise are painful.
- Exercises that involve lots of twisting and bending may or may not benefit you. Your physical therapist will design an individualized exercise program to meet your specific needs.
- Weight-training exercises, though very important, need to be done with proper form to avoid stress to the back and neck.
Your physical therapist will work with you to:
- Reduce pain and other symptoms. Your physical therapist will help you understand how to avoid or modify the activities that caused the injury, so healing can begin. Your physical therapist may use different types of treatments and technologies to control and reduce your pain and symptoms.
- Improve posture. If your physical therapist finds that poor posture has contributed to your herniated disc, the therapist will teach you how to improve your posture so that pressure is reduced in the injured area, and healing can begin and progress as rapidly as possible.
- Improve motion. Your physical therapist will choose specific activities and treatments to help restore normal movement in any stiff joints. These might begin with “passive” motions that the physical therapist performs for you to move your spine, and progress to “active” exercises and stretches that you do yourself. You can perform these motions at home and in your workplace to help hasten healing and pain relief.
- Improve flexibility. Your physical therapist will determine if any of the involved muscles are tight, start helping you to stretch them, and teach you how to stretch them at home.
- Improve strength. If your physical therapist finds any weak or injured muscles, your physical therapist will choose, and teach you, the correct exercises to steadily restore your strength and agility. For neck and back disc herniations, “core strengthening” is commonly used to restore the strength and coordination of muscles around your back, hips, abdomen, and pelvis.
- Improve endurance. Restoring muscular endurance is important after an injury. Your physical therapist will develop a program of activities to help you regain the endurance you had before the injury, and improve it.
- Learn a home program. Your physical therapist will teach you strengthening, stretching, and pain-reduction exercises to perform at home. These exercises will be specific for your needs; if you do them as prescribed by your physical therapist, you can speed your recovery.
- Return to activities. Your physical therapist will discuss your activity levels with you and use them to set your work, sport, and home-life recovery goals. Your treatment program will help you reach your goals in the safest, fastest, and most effective way possible. For spine injuries like a herniated disc, your physical therapist may teach you proper “body mechanics”—correct ways to perform tasks and lift heavy objects—that will help protect your spine from further injury.
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. If you are struggling with neck or back pain due to a disc injury call the experts at Buffalo Back & Neck Physical Therapy (716-836-2225 / www.buffalobackandneckpt.com) to start feeling better today.