Help For Herniated Disc And Lower Back Pain
The spine is made up a column of bones which are called the ‘vertebrae’.
Between the vertebrae lie little pads – known as ‘intervertebral discs’.
Each disc has a tough fibrous outer ring (annular fibrosis) and a soft gel-like center (nucleus pulposi).
The discs between the vertebrae allow the back to flex or bend, and act as shock absorbers.
In children and young adults, discs have high water content. As people age, the water content in the disks decreases and the discs become less flexible. The discs begin to shrink and the spaces between the vertebrae get narrower. Tears and fissures in the outer ring can result, and the soft inner core may bulge outward and press on the root of the spinal nerve.
Things that weaken the disc:
- Improper lifting and repetitive strenuous activities
- Poor posture
- Excessive body weight that places added stress on the disks (in the lower back)
- Lack of exercise
- Inadequate nutrition
- Lack of water
Symptoms of a Herniated Disk
Not all people with a herniated disc have symptoms, but when a herniated disc presses on spinal nerves, symptoms can include:
- loss of feeling
- tingling (a “pins-and-needles” sensation) or numbness in one leg or buttock
- muscle weakness
- loss of bladder or bowel control
The amount of pressure the herniated disc puts on the spinal nerves determines how bad the symptoms will be. Coughing, laughing, sneezing, urinating, or straining can make the pain worse.
Herniated back discs most often occur in the lumbar (lower) region of the spine (a region known as L1-L5) where the back has the most mobility and also endures the most stress. Here, a slipped disc can cause pain radiating from the lower back all the way down to the feet. This intense pain in the lower body is often referred to as sciatica.
Although not as frequent as a lumbar herniated disc, a cervical herniated disc (in the neck) is also a common source of pain. A herniated neck disc can cause intense neck pain as well as tingling, numbness, and weakness down to the arms and into the fingers.
A herniation may develop suddenly or gradually over weeks or months.
There are 4 stages to a herniated disc:
- Disc Degeneration: Chemical changes associated with aging causes discs to weaken, but without a herniation.
- Prolapse (Bulging disk) : The form or position of the disc changes with some slight impingement into the spinal canal and/or spinal nerves.
- Extrusion: There is a tear in the outer layer of the spinal disc, causing spinal disc tissue to leak out, but is still connected to the disc.
- Sequestration or Sequestered Disc: Spinal disk tissue has entered the spinal canal and is no longer directly attached to the disc.
Integrative Medicine Treatment Approach
A disadvantage of using medications for herniated disc pain relief and lower back pain and management is the risk of addiction over an extended period of time. Besides the danger of addiction, continuous use of pain medications can damage the digestive system and liver.
The first treatment is to rest and avoid activities that aggravate your symptoms.
If the pain is very severe, lie on your back and rest your legs on any raised platform high enough to make your knees bend at a 90-degree angle.
Ice and heat applications can be extremely helpful in relieving the painful symptoms of a disc herniation. By helping to relax the muscles of the back, ice and heat applications can relieve muscle spasm and provide significant pain relief.
It is important to loosen up the musculature around your lower back:
Lie on the floor, bend your knees, raise them and place your lower legs on a chair, footstool, ball or even a stack of pillows.
Rest in this position for 20 to 30 minutes.
Other things you can do or use
Use Cayenne and Clove Balm as an anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant, to help alleviate pain and assist in recovery after disc injury and disability.
Each disc in the spine contains collagen, largely responsible for the strength and resilience of the intervertebral discs. Vitamin C has a very important part to play in the formation of collagen, and taking this nutrient in supplement form does seem to help prevent further disc damage. It has been reported that vitamin C between 1,500 and 2,500 mg per day, can alleviate the pain and sometimes spare the need for surgery.
Glucosamine also helps to stimulate healing and repair in your damaged disc, though it may take some weeks or months before the benefits become apparent.
Turmeric extracts and cayenne extracts can assist in relieving the pain and inflammation associated with disc injury and sciatica.
Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant that can help relax tight and stiff muscles and relieve pain. A balanced formula such as Metagenics Fibroplex is best.
Severe pain and inflammatory states require high doses of omega 3 to assist in resolving the condition. I recommend 1-2 tsp daily of Metagenics Metapure or a similar grade of fish oil.
Use of back braces can help support the spine and prevent injuries in people who are involved in heavy lifting objects. However, this can weaken the abdominal and back muscles if relied upon, making the problem worse.
T.E.N.S is a simple and easy to use device, providing effective pain relief without any side effects.
Ensure you are well hydrated. Your discs require water to ensure they stay well inflated and retain a normal shape.
Remove inflammatory foods from your diet. This includes fried and refined foods – those made with margarine or vegetable oils other than olive, flaxseed and rice bran oil, refined flours and sugar or which contain preservatives and flavourings. Eat more vegetables and good quality protein foods like fish, eggs, chicken and lean meats.
Acupuncture, acupressure and massage and yoga may be beneficial in alleviating symptomatic complaints.
Chiropractic spinal manipulation or osteopathy may be useful to restore joint mobility, relieve pain and muscle tightness and encourage healing.
Physical therapy is important for nearly everyone with disc problems. Therapists will tell you how to properly lift, dress, walk, and perform other activities. They will work on strengthening the muscles that help support the spine. You will also learn how to increase flexibility in your spine and legs.
- Avoid lifting or carrying heavy weight
- Pay attention to your weight and physical fitness. Being overweight places an additional burden on the disc
- Avoid any exercise that involves back bending postures and simultaneously bending forward and twisting. Bending forward places pressure on your lumbar spine, and twisting and rotating movements can exacerbate this pressure and contraction.
- Back posture is one of the most important factors when it comes to a herniated disk, and the right pillow to sleep on can do wonders to relieve you of the constant pain.
- A mattress that is too old is often the cause of disk problems. An ideal mattress should yield at the hips and shoulders, where the pressure is greatest yet support the waist and legs. An old worn-out mattress that has lost its ability to support your body places an uneven load on the spinal column. Experts recommend a lifetime of no more than 10 years for a mattress.
- Lying on your side with a pillow between your knees to stabilise your pelvis and spine. Place a pillow under the head to keep the neck in a neutral position. It is most common that pain relief is achieved when the painful side is upper most.
SPECIFIC EXERCISES FOR LOWER BACK STRENGTH
Certain exercises may help to alleviate the discomfort and other symptoms of a herniated disc.
Perform the following exercises at least three times a week:
- Partial Sit-ups or crunches strengthen the abdominal muscles.
Keep the knees bent and the lower back flat on the floor while raising the shoulders up 10-15 cm.
Exhale on the way up, and inhale on the way down.
Perform this exercise slowly 8 – 10 times with the arms across the chest.
- Pelvic Tilt alleviates tight or fatigued lower back muscles.
Lie on the back with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
Tighten the buttocks and abdomen so that they tip up slightly.
Press the lower back to the floor, hold for one second, and then relax. Be sure to breathe evenly.
Over time increase this exercise until it is held for 5 seconds. Then, extend the legs a little more so that the feet are further away from the body and try it again.
- Stretching Lower-Back Muscles.
Lie on the back with knees bent and legs together. Keeping arms at the sides, slowly roll the knees over to one side until totally relaxed.
Hold this position for about 20 seconds (while breathing evenly) and then repeat on the other side.
Lying on the back, hold one knee and pull it gently toward the chest. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat with the other knee.
While supported on hands and knees, lift and straighten right hand and left leg at the same time. Hold for 3 seconds while tightening the abdominal muscles.
The back should be straight. Alternate with the other arm and leg and repeat on each side 8 – 20 times.
- Child’s yoga pose is a restorative yoga pose that gently stretches and lengthens your back and lower spine.
Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position. Line up your hands with your shoulders and your knees with your hips.
Slowly lower your buttocks to rest on your calves. Bend forward and rest your forearms on the floor. If possible, place your forehead on the floor and bring your arms back by your sides. Rest in this pose for 30 seconds to one minute.
- Standing Back Extension can help alleviate pressure and pain in your lower back.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Place your hands, fingers pointing down, on your lower back for support. Slowly arch backwards, only going as far as you can without pain or strain. Hold the stretch for five seconds, then return to your starting position.
As a general rule, strengthening your abdominal muscles and your arms and legs reduces strain on your back, and helps prevent back pain,
Strengthening the muscles that support the spine, especially the extensors, can reduce your risk of re-injuring your spine.
Stretching helps to maintain flexibility in all the muscles that support the spine.