If you have had back pain with sciatica chances are you may have been diagnosed with a bulging disc or herniated disc. A bulging or herniated disc is a very common problem that can cause sciatica pain down the leg and pain in the low back. This sciatica pain is often caused by too much bending forward of the back during lifting and sitting slouched. In order to calm down the sciatic and low back pain, the OPPOSITE of bending forward can often give relief to the area. Many people will spend time doing various types of stretches that actually make the condition worse!
What is a disc?
The disc is a cushion in our low back that sits between each vertebrae. The purpose of the disc is to absorb shock and allow for greater movement in our spine. The disc also helps create space for the nerves in our low back to exit the spinal cord and go down into the legs. The disc is made up of two different portions. The outer ring which can be characterized as a “protective wall” encases the more fluid portion (think jelly like material). The makeup of the disc allows for shock abortion and mobility in our back and neck.
What can cause a bulging disc/herniated disc and sciatica?
Typically, an injury to the disc happens with either:
- Repetitive movements (this includes posture) or
- Sudden movement that usually involves lifting or transferring an object.
Many people who experience back pain or sciatica say “the pain came out of nowhere”and that it “was not caused by any particular movement”. In these cases, the likely cause of the sciatica and back pain is due to repetitive movements over time or poor posture. When we perform the same movements throughout the day (typically bending our spine forward) our body sounds the alarm (which is pain) to let us know that we need to change the way we move. The same can be applied for our postures in sitting and standing. We typically spend most of our days in a “slouched posture”. Over time our body becomes weary of this position as it can cause more pressure to be placed on the disc. One of the hallmark signs of a bulging or herniated disc is pain with sitting in a slouched posture. Once appropriate postural corrections are made then sitting can become less painful. You can read more how to fix sciatica here.
The second reason for pain with a bulging disc or herniated disc can come from the movement that occurs with lifting a heavier object or the combination of lifting and twisting at the same time. When a movement like this takes place an increase amount of pressure is placed on the disc all at once causing it to result in pain and discomfort. Again, this is another way of your body telling you that you need to be more aware and diligent about how you perform lifting tasks in order to prevent any further injury! Whatever the cause of the herniated and bulging disc might be it will still be important for you to understand the common signs and symptoms of his type of injury. You can read more Top 3 Signs of a Herniated Disc here.
Do you need an MRI or scan in order to diagnose a bulging disc?
MRI’s and other scans are not necessary for the typical low back pain or sciatica episode. There are many instances where the imaging “finds something wrong” in your low back and points to that as the reason for the pain but what researchers have recently found is that this may not always be the case.The condition can be diagnosed with an appropriate history taking and movement analysis. A good clinician will be able to assist you in understanding what is causing your pain and what you need to do about it without needing expensive unnecessary imaging. Do you need an MRI? You can learn about why spending more money for an MRI may not help your condition.
Can Bulging Disc Heal?
Yes! Discs can be healed. Movement is the key to healing and returning back to living a life pain free without relying on medications, injections or surgery. Understanding which movements make the pain worse and what movements help decrease the pain is important for healing in a timely manner. The time frame for which healing occurs depends on several factors including how long the pain has been going on for, severity of pain, nature of the injury, and work/exercise factors.
What is the best exercise for bulging disc/herniated disc and sciatica?
If the correct diagnosis has been made then appropriate exercises can be undertaken in order to begin healing and start moving pain free again. A commonly prescribed exercise is bringing your knees to chest in some form or variation
While this exercise may provide some short term relief it actually can make the condition worse because it applies more pressure on the disc. You will want to avoid any variation of exercise that involves bending your spine including the above mentioned stretch and child’s pose. (In some cases these exercises can be beneficial HOWEVER in the majority of cases they are incorrectly administered and are the opposite of what you will want to do!)Watch this video below and try the exercise to help decrease your sciatica and low back pain.
What else can I do?
If you are experiencing bulging disc, herniated disc, or sciatica pain then first thing you MUST do is avoid panic and fear. Understand that back pain will occur in 80% of the population at some point in their life and will go away with appropriate treatment. Recent research suggests that in general you want to avoid bed rest and stay as active as possible (within pain limits). Taking the appropriate steps to change your movement patters, adjust your posture, and performing the right set of exercise can allow you to heal and return to pain free movements.