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Ask the PT – Lumbar/Cervical Disc Herniations

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Hi WSPT,

I was involved in a minor car accident a couple of months ago, and while nobody was seriously injured, my doctor has diagnosed me with a lumbar disc herniation. He recommended physical therapy in order to help with the pain and to see if it can heal naturally as surgery can be risky for someone my age and pain medications only provide temporary relief. What can physical therapy do for my lumbar/cervical disc herniation?

From,

Johnny K.

Hello Johnny,

I would like to assure you that it is possible to treat a lumbar or cervical disc herniation with physical therapy as it has been shown to be more successful than a last-resort option such as surgery. A herniated disc is just one of the many causes of pain in both the neck (cervical spine) and lower back (lumbar spine). The spine is composed of 33 different connected bones called “vertebrae” and are protected and cushioned by round, flat, tire-shaped discs. The discs can become herniated due to aging (30-50 is when risk is highest), a physically demanding job, obesity, and injuries such as your car accident.

The pain from a herniated disc can range from none at all to very intense, and if the herniated disc is pinching against a spinal nerve or the cord itself (called radiculopathy), it can lead to back pain or to pain, numbness, and/or weakness in the legs. The symptoms of a herniated disc depends on location of the injury and the pressure put on the nerves, and symptoms can be worsened by certain physical activities or even just by sitting for an extended period of time. A physical therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation in order to properly diagnose your herniated disc and come up with a treatment plan that is right for you.

Your physical therapist will run a number of different tests in order to observe your mobility and range of motion and may ask you questions regarding your pain levels and medical history. A treatment program will be designed to relieve pain and nerve pressure while improving mobility through stretching and strengthening exercises. The physical therapist may also use other advanced techniques he or she specializes in as it can speed up the recovery process and can further help to successfully reduce pain and increase mobility.

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