Disc hernia – how can you fix it?
Your spinal column is made up of separate “bricks” called vertebrae. The space between them is filled by a flexible material called the intervertebral disc. This prevents the vertebrae from coming into direct contact with each other. The stability of the spine is provided by ligaments and a number of muscles. If your spinal muscles are strong, they hold the vertebrae in place and only enough load is placed on the disc to prevent damage. If you carry too much weight or your muscles are weak, too much pressure is put on the disc. If it becomes deformed, it causes complaints of varying severity. Herniated discs affect many people. But most do not require surgery. However, pain in this condition is often recurrent. Surgery is a looming shadow. In most cases, you can reverse this condition yourself! Here’s how
Pathways to disc herniation and how to prevent it
Your body weight is put on your spinal column with every movement you make. Your vertebrae, the disc between them, ligaments and muscles act like a cushion to absorb this shock. As long as your spinal muscles are strong enough to hold you up, you’re free of complaints. If they don’t hold well – you’ll have complaints. The force-absorbing system can be weakened and upset for a number of reasons.
Most spinal hernias are caused by something you or your lifestyle is responsible for. These could be avoided if….
- Most spinal injuries are caused by accidents, such as falls and collisions. Unfortunately, it can happen to even the most careful of people, and you can’t really prepare for that.
- Genetic predisposition – you “get” this from your parents. You can’t help it. The predisposition itself does not cause the hernia. If you have a family history of herniated discs, you need to be consciously prepared to avoid them. You can “replace” loose ligaments by strengthening your spinal muscles. This means that regular spinal exercises, yoga, etc. are “mandatory” for you.
- If you are overweight, your muscles will be under more strain than “designed”. It’s like you’re always carrying a bag on your shoulders. You might think your spine wasn’t designed for that! If you are overweight, you should aim to lose weight or give your back muscles a special workout so that they are able to carry your “bag”. Overweight and untrained muscles are a direct consequence of back pain. If you are overweight, you can expect not only back pain but other joint problems as well.
- If you do heavy physical work, your muscles can handle your own body weight, but not the weight of the objects you regularly carry. The only way to avoid this is to build up your back muscles to the point where they can sustain not only your own weight, but also the extra weight. I know, after a full day of hard work, you don’t want to go to the gym. But if you don’t, disc herniation will prevent you from working and earning an income…a serious dilemma.
- The driver or jackhammer operator is exposed to constant vibration. These jobs put more stress than normal on the spine. Two solutions are possible. Find another job or, if you can’t do that, train your spinal muscles.
- However, the most common cause today is sedentary work and lack of exercise. You sit in the office, on the bus, on the subway, in the car, in front of the TV, at the movies, in the theater… everywhere. Meanwhile you avoid the gym by far, your spine and back muscles are so weakened they can barely support your own weight. So when you bend down to pick up a dropped pencil, you may get a hernia. And this is no joke! Get up from your chair and give your back a workout. You don’t even have to go to the gym. Push-ups, planking and a few sit-ups. If you dedicate 15-20 minutes every day, that’s enough!!! And that’s no joke either!
If you miss the opportunity to prevent and get injured, it will take a long time to recover. Prevention is cheap. To “undo” a hernia? Well… that can be very expensive.
You’ll need a variety of tools and professionals. Physiotherapist, physiotherapist, massage therapist, muscle stimulator, soft laser, therapeutic ultrasound…. you would have to pay for their expertise, you would have to buy the equipment. These costs will be particularly painful because your pain will prevent you from working and earning an income.
My advice: Don’t let discus hernia develop! Regular back exercises can “cheaply” prevent it
How does a disc hernia develop?
The disc between the vertebrae is made up of an outer fibrous ring and an inner, gelatinous substance. Imagine a doughnut filled with jam. The dough is on the outside (like the fibrous ring on the cartilage) and the jam is on the inside (like the jelly inside the cartilage). The jam is invisible, it stays inside, it only appears when you press it, the dough breaks away and gives way to the jam. Now sit on the doughnut…it will crumble apart. Do you understand?! The heavier the load on your cartilage, the more jelly will flow out.
The space at the spine is very tight. In other words, there’s no place for the “jelly” to drain! However, there are plenty of sensitive things: the nerve bundles that exit between the spinal cord and the vertebrae are located here.
If you’re lucky, your disc will rupture in a direction that the jelly doesn’t press on the nerve – in which case you won’t have any complaints despite the hernia.
But the hernia is usually revealed when you can’t move because of the pain. This is not caused by the hernia itself, but by pressure on the spinal cord or nerve root. The location and intensity of your symptoms will depend on the vertebrae at which the hernia is located.
As the greatest stress is concentrated around your lumbar spine, it is in this area that a hernia most often develops. But it can also occur in the neck and back.
Symptoms of herniated disc
Mostly sharp, splitting, stabbing pain that stiffens into a compulsion to simply not move. With increased abdominal compression (sneezing, coughing, abdominal squeezing), the pain usually intensifies. It decreases when lying with knees up and hips bent.
Pain radiates to the area of the affected nerve supply (dermatome), where there may be sensory disturbances (burning, numbness, numbness). Reflexes may be weakened or lost.
If the nerve remains under pressure for a long time, the motor nerve may be “damaged”, resulting in muscle weakness or even peripheral paralysis.
What to do if you have a disc hernia
The complaints described above are likely to prompt you to seek medical advice. But if they don’t, don’t put off getting it checked out. You need to know exactly what is going on.
It is up to the doctor to decide what to do. Surgery is usually performed if the hernia is neurological symptoms and paralysis. If immediate surgery is not needed, conservative treatment is started. If there is no significant change after 6 weeks, then surgery may be decided for an “indirect” reason.
In the majority of cases, surgery is not indicated and treatment reduces but does not eliminate the symptoms. A sudden movement, a sneeze, lifting a small weight can provoke pain. This can make everyday life very difficult.
In case of back pain avoid physical exertion. Sleep on a hard mattress (soft and saggy ones are no good), lie on your side with your knees up and your waist “curled”. This relieves pressure on the lumbar discs.
The medication for lumbar sprains is aimed at relieving pain and relaxing the muscles. However, oral medication not only reaches the painful area, but also spreads throughout your body. It can lead to undesirable side effects. Especially if you have to take them for longer than a few days. Many patients think that taking them will get them anywhere. No one tells you the truth: pills don’t cure you. You have to do much more than that to get better.
Physical therapy is likely to be prescribed alongside the drugs. You will get a combination of ultrasound, electrotherapy, soft laser and magnetic therapy. The effects of these will develop slowly and once you start to feel the benefits, the prescribed course of treatment will expire. I’m sorry to say that you’re on your own from here. This is where you need to seek help from private providers, physiotherapists, physiotherapists.
Methods of providing symptomatic therapy
You can use a range of home physiotherapy equipment to help reduce your back pain. These devices are designed to be simple, effective and safe for you to use. They’re not too complicated, but they’re not completely risk-free – you could harm yourself if you ignore the rules and suggestions.
You need to understand that different medical devices work in different ways, they are made for different things. They all aim to restore your health, but in different ways. It’s like a spoon, knife and fork. They are all for eating, but for different things.
First we look at the devices that contribute to reducing or even eliminating your pain, but these methods do not add anything to your treatment in the long term, they do not restore you to your original condition. So although you may not be in pain, it can recur at any time.
You can choose not to ask for the side effects of painkillers and use TENS treatment for pain relief. This easy to administer treatment works in two locations, resulting in pain relief for several hours after treatment.
Since herniated discs cause persistent pain – lasting up to weeks – choose a device with a so-called modulated TENS programme. Devices that do not have a modulated TENS program will only provide pain relief for a few days because the brain gets used to the stimulation (unfortunately, the most common Omron, Beurer stimulators do not have this, so they are only temporarily good for spinal hernia pain)!
IMPORTANT: TENS is a symptomatic treatment. It relieves your pain, but it has no therapeutic effect, i.e. it does not have any curative effect on the hernia.
It provides more effective pain relief than TENS, but only the more modern and currently more expensive devices provide this treatment. It is not only symptomatic! It reduces the oedema of the nerve roots pressed by the hernia and relieves pain. It stimulates the regeneration of damaged tissue. This method does not eliminate the hernia itself.
Ultrasound warms the tissues, speeding up blood circulation, relaxing stiff muscles and reducing edema around nerve roots. The effect is slower than with soft laser and more treatments may be needed. Ultrasound machines are cheaper than soft lasers, for example. With ultrasound, you need to be careful about the correct dosage and you can’t use it directly over the spine, only on the muscles on either side of the spinal column. Ultrasound reduces pain but does not eliminate the hernia or the underlying cause.
The effect is similar to microcurrent. It reduces the edema around the nerve root, leading to pain relief. A 2017 study by the American College of Physicians (ACP) recommends soft laser as the first procedure to use for spinal hernia (non-surgical). In 2/3 of cases, surgery was also avoided. The soft laser device is more expensive than microcurrent or TENS, and unfortunately it is not a permanent solution to the hernia, because it does not eliminate the hernia or the cause itself.
Muscle stimulation and disc hernia – effective help
If you’ve got this far in your reading, you already know: spinal hernia is caused by your muscles not having enough strength to maintain the distance between your vertebrae for some reason. This puts enough pressure on the disc between them to “squeeze the juice out” – hence the herniated disc.
While it’s obvious that regular spinal strengthening exercises can reduce the likelihood of developing a herniated disc, once a herniated disc has developed, gymnastics is very risky and should be avoided! In fact, if you start strengthening your back muscles with the very weak muscles that led to the hernia, you will make matters worse.
This is where muscle stimulation (EMS) comes in. This is a way to strengthen your back muscles without putting extra weight or stress on your spine and causing more trouble.
The goal of muscle stimulation is to strengthen your spine supporting and back muscles to the point where it’s safe for you to do back exercises, yoga or even gym workouts.
Muscle stimulation is no different from traditional exercise in terms of muscle. If you strengthen a muscle for exercise, it will also strengthen for stimulation. The only difference is efficiency and time. Muscle stimulation is more effective than exercise and therefore can be used to develop a specific muscle group in a shorter period of time.
Naturally, stimulation is not a substitute for exercise. It complements it. However, in the case of injury, it is the only possible and effective method. You should treat it at least once a day. After 2-3 weeks, you will feel the improvement. In 2-3 months, you can strengthen your muscles to the point where you can safely move on to exercise.
And here’s my next piece of news: you can’t quit exercising from now on. Because if you do nothing, your painstakingly strengthened muscles will be back to square one in about 2-3 weeks, and you’ll be back to torturing your injury again…
I write my blog articles based on decades of medical and medical technology experience.
Healing work and therapeutic methods are constantly changing and evolving. Medical devices designed for personal use provide a new range of treatments for the doctor and the patient.
In my articles I describe these new devices and their applications.
I hope to help you maintain or regain your health.