Keep the Jelly in the Donut – prevent bulging discs

Are you feeling numbness, tingling, a burning sensation, chronic or new pain, and weakness in your arms or legs.  These are some of the most common symptoms experienced by patients suffering from a herniated disc.  The first onset of symptoms may go unnoticed and gradually increase as time progresses and bad-habits persist.  Symptoms may involve both or one side of the body. These may be noticed upon standing or prolonged sitting, at night when sleeping, during core stimulation as in coughing and laughing, and prolonged walking.

A herniated disc is a result of normal degeneration of the disc, located in between all the vertebrae in your spine, and improper lifting techniques.  As you age or perform excessive repetitive impactful weight bearing exercises, the discs start to decrease in size and water content, which places the disc in a more vulnerable state for injury.

A disc herniation occurs when the cushion between the vertebrae of your spine have undergone continuous forces on the disc (donut) causing the softer center (jelly) of the cushion to push out of the thicker outer layer.  When this occurs the “jelly pushed out of the donut,” pressing on the nerves which run up and down the back of the spine.  This irritation of the nerve is what causes the symptoms listed above.  Surgery is not absolutely necessary when treating this disorder.  Many people who may have this disorder may not experience any symptoms.

Certain types of jobs, recreational activities, and health factors may make you prone to herniated your discs including running, repetitive lifting as in manual labor, power lift squats/lunges when the weight is placed onto your shoulders, being overweight, or being middle aged (ages 35-50).

The answer to your problem is physical therapy.  Conservative treatments are the first line of treatment and most effective when establishing long term effects of symptom relief.  Many medications and surgery are options if conservative therapy does not show results. During physical therapy, a thorough evaluation and examination of your symptoms will be conducted.  Methods including a patient interview, repetitive trunk flexion and/or extension, cervical flexion and/or extension, distraction of the spine, compression of the spine, palpation, sensory testing, reflex testing, spine clearance, and manual muscle tests allow a physical therapist to develop the best method of treatment for your type of condition.  It takes approximately 1-2 months of treatment before results can be seen and symptoms are alleviated.

The most important of these treatments is positioning during normal activities of daily living.  Whether it is proper positioning when sitting, standing, or lifting at work or in the community.  Not utilizing your back and using your legs while keeping your back straight is very important.  Avoiding rotation when lifting as well is very crucial.  Many hands on techniques will also be utilized in the treatment of a bulging disc including: manual or mechanical traction which will relieve pressure of the of nerve; heat or ice which relieves pain, relaxes muscle, and reduce inflammation; ultrasound which will promote deep healing, and electrical stimulation which will relax muscles and improve nerve conduction to associated muscles.  Core strengthening and stretching, utilizing abdominal and back muscles, are vital to maintaining the proper positioning and stability of the spinal column and discs.  Bracing may also be used for positioning to minimize pain and movement of disc.  For lumbar protrusions of the discs, a lumbar roll may be prescribed by your therapist.  This can be placed on your lower back when sitting to place proper alignment of the spine, realigning of the disc in the spine, and preventing further herniation.  Continued exercise and dieting are crucial for helping to progress treatment in a positive direction. For more information on physical therapy services go to

If you have any of these symptoms and are seeking treatment, call or come directly to Total Performance Physical Therapy in North Wales, PA for an examination with Dr. Heather Moore.

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