Back Pain & Sciatica: Herniated Disc

Ok, now that some questions have been answered, let’s get a little more involved in one of the common causes of Back Pain & Sciatica: Lumbar Disc Herniation

Some background information: Your lower back is made up of 5 segments called the lumbar vertebrae. Between each of these segments there is a disc that acts as a spacer between the body of the segments. The discs help maintain enough space between each segment for nerves exiting the spinal cord to travel to the legs. Each disc is made up of a soft center that is surrounded by a stronger, fibrous exterior. A herniation occurs when there is too much pressure placed on the disc and the soft interior pushes out through a rupture in the exterior.

Bun GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

*May not be anatomically correct

These herniations may sound bad on paper and look bad on film, but they are not always a painful problem… on their own. The problems with these occurs when the herniated disk starts to put pressure on the nerve root as it leaves the spinal cord and travels down the leg. This pressure on the nerve is what causes the pain, numbness, burning, or weakness down the leg that characterizes sciatica.

physical therapy herniated disc

*Somewhat more accurate representation.

Lumbar disc herniation occurs more often in people between the ages of 30-50 and affects men more than women. Occupations that involve a lot of heavy lifting, bending, twisting, and other activities that put a lot of force through the low back lead to a higher chance of developing a herniated disc due to the repeated stress.

Signs that back pain & sciatica may be caused by a herniated disc include:

  • Worsening pain with bending forward or twisting through the spine

  • Worsening pain with coughing, sneezing, or other holding your breath during strenuous activity

  • Worsening pain with sitting in a slumped position

  • Decreased pain with lying face down

  • Decreased pain when standing up straight

Although they won’t necessarily heal the disc herniation, there are exercises that can help take pressure off of the disc and decrease the pain. These exercises focus mostly on increasing flexibility and improving the strength of the muscles that stabilizes the spine.

And we’ll get to some of those after we cover the other 2 main causes of back pain and sciatica!

Loop Exercises GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

 This may or may not be on the list… Stay tuned


Check back for Part 3 which will be covering the second cause highlighted in our series: Spinal Stenosis. We will cover the basic anatomy of the injury and how to know if you fit in this category.

And don’t miss our upcoming FREE Back Pain & Sciatica Workshop if you know of anybody that can benefit from finding relief from this common disorder!

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