How To Fix A Herniated Disc (Without Surgery!)
The discs between our vertebrae act as shock absorbers that protect our spine and allow it to move in many different ways.
When these discs move or get knocked out of position, a myriad of different problems can arise.
But first, we need to differentiate between the different types of disc injuries.
Bulging and herniated discs involve the disc sliding out of its normal position. They can then press on the surrounding nerves causing pain in the low back and wherever the nerves lead. Sometimes your disc can bulge without touching any nerves. These are typically asymptomatic, but it can proceed further to the point where you do feel pain.
Ruptured discs involve the breakdown and spilling out of disc material in and around the spine. This condition is much more serious and does require surgery to resolve. But it is much more rare, and is usually the result of an acute traumatic incident.
In this article I will specifically be going over herniated or bulging discs, the much more common of the two.
How do you know the discomfort you’re feeling is the result of a herniated disc? When nerves are involved, the pain you feel is different and can involve numbing or tingling feelings not just in the low back but down your legs as well.
From these symptoms you can reasonably estimate that you have disc issues, but to confirm it you do need an MRI or comparable test.
The lumbar spine is normally in an extended position. In this I’m referring to the natural curvature of this region of the spine. When we bring our lumbar region out of its normal curve into flexion, that’s when we begin to have problems.
Over time, being in this position slowly pushes the disc out of its normal alignment. Combine this with weighted exercises (like squats) while not keeping your spine in good posture, and you multiply the negative effect.
This is why common stretches that are generally prescribed, such as those pictured below, can make the problem worse.
The flexion poses and twisting of the spine back and forth with the disc already in a bad position can exacerbate your low back pain. The reason they’re prescribed in the first place is that they do provide temporary relief by stretching the muscles of the lower back. But treating only the muscle and not the source of your pain is the fatal flaw here.
So naturally then, we need to accentuate lumbar extension. But there’s a few key steps we need to take care of first. If you do these steps out of order, you greatly decrease the effectiveness of the solution.
1. SPINAL DECOMPRESSION
Compression of the spine in a flexed position is what causes the disc to move in the first place. In order to relieve that pressure, we need to decompress and elongate our vertebrae.
There are two main ways to do this:
Hanging from a pullup bar is an excellent option. Keep your toes lightly on the ground and just let gravity do its job.
If this is too difficult or you have trouble with your grip when hanging on to the bar, you can also use a lat pulldown machine. The resistance of the machine provides the same decompressive force.
Another very simple way to decompress your spine is to lie down. In a horizontal position you take the pressure off your spine. This is best done with your knees elevated to take even more pressure off. I personally like using a couch or chair to get the job done.
2. RECENTER THE DISC (IF YOU NEED TO)
Your disc can potentially favour one side depending on the movement that caused it in the first place. If your symptoms are present on one side of the body or travel down one leg, you know that your disc slid laterally and not just posteriorly. If you find yourself leaning away from the pain, this is for you.
In order to recenter the disc, we need to laterally adjust the hips in order to guide the disc back into its normal position.
Brace against the wall with the arm OPPOSITE to the side of pain. Stand roughly a foot away from the wall and use your other arm to drive your hips towards the wall. Keep the rest of your body in a neutral position and avoid tilting forward or back. Alternate between driving the hips, and relaxing back to the start position.
3. SPINAL EXTENSION
Now that we’ve alleviated pressure on the spine and re-centered our disc, now we can safely guide it back into its normal position.
I recommend doing this on the ground as you allow gravity to help you out. We’re aiming for what’s called a cobra position.
Lie face down on the ground with your hands by your shoulders. Squeeze your glutes to lock your hips in place. We want them to remain on the ground the entire time. With your hands, gently push the upper half of your body up. Go with whatever range of motion you have and don’t let your hips leave the floor.
You don’t need this much flexibility
Alternate between driving up and relaxing back on the floor. You’ll find that the more reps you do, the looser you’ll feel and the higher you’ll be able to push.
If you’re not able to push up like this, you can just hang out in an extended position resting on your forearms as pictured below.
I’ll reiterate that it’s very important to decompress and recenter the disc before accentuating extension. You want to put your disc in the proper position before you attempt to guide it back to where it needs to be.
Once you do that, you alleviate the pressure that the disc was putting on your nerves, thereby eliminating the source of pain.
To your healthy low back,
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