Treating a Lower Back Disc Prolapse with Physiotherapy

Lower back pain is an extremely common ailment that can have a really negative impact on your daily life. It impairs your work, exercise, family time and social life, right down to the simplest things like chores at home.

The lower part of your back is called the lumbar spine and it consists of five bones – the lumbar vertebrae. Between each of these vertebrae is a spinal disc, a soft substance that assists with shock absorption when walking, running and doing any other physical activity. The other major function of the spinal disc is to help the vertebrae join to each other, enabling a smooth movement of the spine in all directions.

The spinal disc has a jelly-like substance in the core, called the Nucleus Pulposus. This is surrounded by the Annulus Fibrosus which is a tougher, fibrous covering to protect it. The outer layer is made up of several layers of fibrocartilaginous sheets, crossing each other diagonally and adding a lot of strength to the disc.

Many ligaments attach to the lumbar spine to provide even more stability, as well as muscles, all helping the spine move smoothly. The spinal cord runs from the brain all the way down through the vertebrae of the spine, with nerves branching off and going to different parts of your body.

What Exactly is a Disc Prolapse?

A common cause of lower back pain is a lumbar disc prolapse, also often called a slipped disc or herniated disc. A disc prolapse happens when the soft centre of the spinal disc pushes through a crack in the exterior casing. It begins with a weakening or tear of the Annulus Fibrosus, allowing the soft Nucleus Pulposus to protrude through the gap.

This bulging disc can compress the nerve roots around this area, resulting in irritation and inflammation, and that can cause uncomfortable neurological symptoms such as sciatica.

Causes of a Disc Prolapse

Some of the most common causes of this painful condition include:

  • Trauma, such as a sporting injury or a car accident.
  • Repetitive bending, like gardening or picking up your kids.
  • Lifting heavy objects.
  • Sitting for long periods of time, poor posture or a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Aging can cause a degenerative prolapse.
  • Being overweight can put excess load and pressure on the spine.
  • Congenital disorders or anomalies in the vertebrae.

Symptoms of a Prolapsed Disc

While some people have very few, or even no symptoms at all, the following can be associated with a herniated disc:

  • Dull or sharp pain in the lower back, which can come on suddenly.
  • Pain radiating to your legs (sciatica), if there is nerve damage.
  • A feeling of weakness in the legs.
  • Muscle spasms or cramping in the affected area.

If you experience loss of bladder and bowel control and have lost sensation around your perineal area, make an appointment with your doctor immediately. You may have Cauda Equina Syndrome, which is compression on the spinal nerve roots.

How to Treat a Prolapsed Disc with Physiotherapy

There is no need to be alarmed if you are told you have a bulging disc. Despite what you may have heard, spinal discs are not an unstable structure, and they can be treated.

Herniated discs usually involve conservative treatment initially, such as using anti-inflammatory drugs along with some physiotherapy. Most people improve very well with this type of treatment.

Visit a sports physiotherapist who is experienced in lower back pain such as the team at Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy as they will be able to tailor a treatment plan specifically for you. A physiotherapist will likely use a combination of taping, mobilisation, soft tissue release and exercise to decrease the level of pain and improve your movement.

Prevention of a Prolapsed Disc

To minimise the risk of a disc herniation, incorporate the following into your life.

  • Include regular exercise in your daily life, to get your body moving and staying strong.
  • Ensure you use good technique while strength training and in sports, to minimise the chance of injury.
  • If you sit for a lot of the day, use ergonomic chairs and workstations.
  • Walk around and do some gentle exercise at regular intervals every day.
  • Speak to a sports physio to obtain some helpful advice about any adjustments to your lifestyle that would benefit you.

You don’t need to put up with lower back pain as just ‘one of those things’ – reach out to Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy who are dedicated to thoroughly assessing and treating your back pain to have you moving well again as soon as possible. They take a very practical approach to treatment by keeping it simple.

Other than physio for back pain, the team at Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy is also highly specialized in post op physiotherapy and soft tissue massage, among many others. Phone or book online for an appointment.

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