A herniated disc occurs when the nucleus pulposus, which is the gel-like inner substance of an intervertebral disc, breaks through the annulus fibrosus, which is the tough, outer rim of the tire-like structure. Pain is the most common symptom. However, nerve compression and inflammation can cause other symptoms including numbness, tingling and/or weakness in the extremities can also occur with a herniated disc.
A herniated disc can cause other symptoms, including reflex dysfunction or an abnormal reflex response in the arms or legs, depending on where in the vertebral column the disc rupture occurs.
- Cervical Spine: If a herniated disc occurs in the upper spine area, neck pain may result which radiates into the shoulders or arms.
- Thoracic Spine: Mid-spine disc herniation is uncommon. If a herniated disc occurs in this area, pain may radiate to the front or back of the body’s trunk
- Lumbar Spine: A herniated disc in the lower spine typically causes pain that may radiate or shoot into the buttocks, thighs, and legs. This is sometimes called sciatica.
If you have a herniated disc, it is especially important not to place any unnecessary pressure on your spine. Activities to be avoided include sleeping on your abdomen, wearing shoes with high heels and sitting or standing for extended periods. These all put extra stress on the injured or herniated disc. Focus on maintaining good posture, whether you are sitting or standing. When you need to lift something heavy, remember to keep your back straight and use your knees and hips, rather than your back to lift, which can further injure the herniated disc.
Following your herniated disc pain relief operation, your physician will probably recommend physical therapy before you begin an exercise routine on your own. A skilled therapist will help you choose exercises that are safe and effective for you as an individual. Exercise is essential to your herniated disc pain relief, as well as to maintain your spine health over time. It’s the easiest and most sensible way to combat problems with your back.
Research has shown that exercise, done on a regular basis is linked to fewer back problems. It has many benefits for your spine health including:
- Strengthening: It can help re-strengthen your core muscles that help support your spine following herniated disc pain relief surgery, and also can strengthen the muscles of your arms and legs. Strength in your muscles reduces back strain.
- Exercise can reduce your risk of falling and sustaining injuries.
- Stretching exercises decrease the risk of painful spasms in the muscles.
- Weight-bearing exercise helps to prevent osteoporosis, which in turn decreases your risk of compression fractures that can cause pain similar to that of a herniated disc.
- Aerobic exercise, the kind that increases your heart rate, can help to relieve pain. It stimulates the body to release its own “feel good” chemicals, called endorphins.
To Reduce Pain
The following suggestions may help you cope with the pain caused by a herniated disc:
- Relax: Find a position that’s comfortable for rest, other than lying on your stomach. Lying on your stomach is called the “prone” position, and this is not recommended for people who have a herniated disc. You might be comfortable lying on your back with a small pillow or rolled towel placed under your knees. Or try lying on your side with a pillow or rolled towel between your knees. It’s important to avoid staying in one position for too long if you have a herniated disc, as this can make your muscles stiff and sore.
- Walk: A 10 to 20-minute walk on a level surface twice a day can help improve blood flow and may help the pain of a herniated disc decrease. Avoid stairs, hills, and uneven surfaces. Walk only as far as you can without increased pain.
- Pain medication: It’s usually better to stay ahead of the pain, instead of waiting until your pain is severe. Try taking the pain medication your doctor has recommended or prescribed for your herniated disc on a regular schedule.
- Ice or mild heat: While there are no studies that prove ice or heat help, they may temporarily ease the pain caused by a herniated disc. Some people get more pain relief by alternating between applications of cold and heat. Try both and see what works the best to control the discomfort caused by your herniated disc. Some suggestions for you:
- A warm bath or shower may help to relax muscles that are tense or may help to relieve muscle spasms caused by a herniated disc
- A heating pad: set only on medium or low; never on high. Apply for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 or 3 hours.
- A cold pack or ice pack may temporarily numb an area that is painful due to a herniated disc. Ice and cold can also relieve swelling. Apply for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 or 3 hours. Never place an ice pack directly on your skin; wrap the pack in a thin towel or tee-shirt or put it inside of a pillowcase.