Physiotherapy treatments for a slipped disc focus on taking the weight off the spine, relieving associated pain and preventing injury or rupture to the disc. Once a slipped disc is diagnosed, the physician will refer to physiotherapy as soon as possible to begin treatment.
The physiotherapist will do a thorough evaluation and prescribe a treatment plan, include the patient and physician in the treatment plan and monitor progress. The aim is to restore function to the disc, which is cushioning the vertebrae in the spine. Letting a slipped disc go to long may mean surgical intervention, so starting physiotherapy treatments for a slipped disc as soon as possible is very important.
What is a slipped disc?
In between each vertebrae in the spine are discs that provide shock absorbing cushion so the bones to not rub together. Every time you move in any direction, the discs are there to protect your back. With a slipped disc, there has been some sort of trauma or injury that causes the disc to “bulge” and protrude beyond the edge of the vertebrae. Know that if you have what they call a “slipped disc” it will never actually “slip” out of place, as it will continue to be attached. This can be a very painful condition and serious if left untreated.
A slipped disc is actually a disc that is pinched, twisted, slightly torn or beginning to degenerate. In an injury or condition of the back, inflammation can occur around the disc and cause the disc to swell. Then we you move with the injury, it can further cause swelling or tears in the disc. Once a disc has “slipped” it usually does not get better on its own and requires some sort of treatment. Untreated slipped discs can progress over time and are associated with chronic neck and back pain.
What are the symptoms of a slipped disc?
Slipped discs can be severely painful. As a matter of fact, most patients that have slipped discs experience moderate chronic pain every day. The pain is unrelenting and worsens with certain activities.
Some of the symptoms of slipped discs are:
- Chronic radiating pain
- Numbness and tingling
- Weak Muscles
- Diminished reflexes in the extremities (arms and legs)
Most of these symptoms are felt at least daily to be called chronic and related to a slipped disc. They usually come on months or even years after an injury to the spine. The original injury may have long healed over and the pain goes away in a sort of “honeymoon phase” before the pain of a slipped disc sets in. This means the absence of pain does not necessarily mean. that an injury to the spine has healed. Starting physiotherapy treatments for a slipped disc early on can greatly reduce chronic symptoms and bring complete healing.
What are some common physiotherapy treatments for a slipped disc?
In physiotherapy, the treatments for a slipped disc focus on healing the injury and the area around the affected disc and vertebrae. It has been found that if treatment begins early enough that healing begins in as little as 12 weeks and the need for surgery can be eliminated in 73% of patients. The therapist will first focus on the surrounding muscles, ligaments and tendons with heat, cold and massage to relax any muscle spasms that may be putting pressure on the disc or area. The following treatments are employed to help realign the vertebrae and disc:
TENS Unit (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) – Electrodes are placed on the skin near the area of pain to reduce pain impulses.
Traction – The patient is placed in a neck brace to pull the vertebrae apart and help the disc move back onto the proper place.
Massage – Muscles are manipulated to help relax spasms and allow the disc to move back to its original location.
Exercises – Exercises are prescribed that are designed to realign the spine and strengthen the muscles to hold the spine in proper alignment.
Patient Education – Patients are taught proper body mechanics to prevent further injury or new injuries from occurring during the treatment period.
Hydrotherapy – Patients may sit in a whirlpool, swim and do water exercises to help strengthen back and neck muscles with very low impact on the spine.
Can physiotherapy treatments really help a slipped disc?
The answer is Yes! If this issue is caught early enough before too much damage has occurred then physiotherapy is very effective to help heal a slipped disc and avoid surgery. The patient must be compliant with appointments, do exercises at home and practice good body mechanics. It is very important to form a good team between the patient, the physiotherapist and the patient’s physician. If all of these factors are met, then physiotherapy is very successful in treating a slipped disc and the need for surgery is greatly reduced and almost eliminated.
It was previously thought that the only treatment for slipped disc was surgical intervention. It is becoming more and more evident that if caught in the early stages, that slipped discs can be very effectively treated with physiotherapy alone. This is great news for patients that have suffered from chronic back pain. It is also the least invasive treatment available with little pain involved and patients can continue with daily life as tolerated. Some patients do require some pain and anti-inflammatory medications in the early stages, but when physiotherapy is started early and complied with the need for these medications are reduced.
Physiotherapy treatments for a slipped disc are a very effective way to treat this issue and help patients get back on their feet faster!