How to Care for a Herniated Discs And Lower Back Pain
We had a guy in the Dojo last week really hurt his back while training for a tournament. He was practicing sweeps and Judo throws when he hurt his back and fell to the mat. We stopped training for a bit to make sure he was alright. He was able to get up off the mats and get changed, he set an appointment to visit the Chiropractor to get his back checked out and found out that he had a herniated disc. As more of our students that are practicing Judo are experiencing lower back problems we wanted to share this blog post with you about caring for a herniated disk. The most important thing is to try and avoid any back injury, but considering the sport, you are likely to tweak something at some point of your journey. Especially if your goal is to become a black belt, that is likely 10 years of training. Hope this helps keep some of you healthy along the way.
There’s no more important system in your body than your central nervous system; it sends signals from the brain down the spinal column to control the movement of your body. When part of the spinal cord becomes damaged due to injury or overuse, the result can be pain, weakness, numbness or a tingling sensation in the back and to the extremities. This discomfort can be caused by one or more herniated discs in the spinal column.
Just the name “herniated disc” sounds painful and if you have ever experienced one, you know the pain can be excruciating. Herniated discs can cause excruciating lower back pain. A disc is herniated when the outer portion of a spinal disc, called the annulus fibrosus, breaks down due to injury or common wear. The inner portion of the disc, the nucleus pulposus, can then press on the nerve endings in the back or neck. These discs work like a cushioning between your spine and allow movement of the vertebrae. Although a herniated disc can occur anywhere along your spinal column, most herniated discs happen in the lower back or lumbar region. It is possible to have a herniated disc and not even know it; some people don’t experience pain or discomfort at all while others are in constant distress. Herniated discs in the lumbar region usually cause discomfort in the buttocks, calf and thigh and pain may radiate down the legs, causing numbness or tingling. Herniated discs in the neck often cause shoulder and arm pain, which can be dull and constant or occur as sudden, shooting pains. Since the nerve endings are affected by the bulging disc, the muscles in arms and legs can be compromised and may weaken. All of these symptoms should be brought to the attention of a doctor to properly assess and diagnose the problem. Each patient experiences pain in a different manner, which is why there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to healing a herniated disc. When meeting with a doctor, he or she will assess the spine to determine which disc or discs are causing the problem and then will determine an individualized treatment plan to alleviate the problem.
Generally, the first step in a treatment plan is a conservative one, depending on the severity of the situation. A doctor may try one treatment option at a time or try a combination of efforts to help alleviate the pain. Some of these methods include hot/cold therapy; physical therapy, including exercise and stretching techniques to help relieve any pressure on the nerve roots; and anti-inflammatory pain relief medication. Oral steroids, narcotic medications, and epidural injections are also options that can be provided by a doctor. The physician may also suggest chiropractic care and acupuncture to help with the discomfort as a complement to the other pain relief options or as an option on their own, based on a case by case situation. Conservative options are usually attempted for at least six weeks to see if they are helping. During this time, the doctor will educate the patient on how to move properly, to avoid herniated discs in the future. Proper lifting, bending, and stretching are addressed to avoid too much pressure on the discs in the future. After the conservative methods have been tried and the patient has found relief, he or she may decide to continue with these less invasive solutions. If the conservative treatments are not successful or if a patient is suffering from a great deal of pain, surgery may be an option. In some instances, surgery for a herniated disc is the best option, especially if a patient is losing feeling in his arms or legs due to a pinched nerve caused by the protruding disc. The nerve can become permanently damaged if the disc rests against it for too long, so the doctor may determine that surgery may be the best option.
Depending upon which disc is herniated and its location in the spine determines the type of surgery that will need to be performed. Discs can become herniated in the neck, as well, and requires a different type of herniated disc surgery. Sometimes, the disc can break if severely damaged, and fragments from the disc can become lodged in the soft tissues surrounding the spine. This can be quite painful and requires a specialized spine surgery. The physician and surgeon will determine the type of surgery required based on an individualized assessment of the patient’s needs.
So what causes a herniated disc, and can it be prevented? The discs between the vertebrae gradually lose water content as we age, which means they are more likely to become damaged, even by common usage. Other factors, such as excess weight can cause strain to the back, as can jobs that require heavy lifting and bending on a regular basis or just plain genetics can determine a bad back. While sometimes a herniated disc cannot be avoided, there are preventative measures that may help to keep the discs healthy. Exercise is the best way to strengthen the muscles surrounding and supporting the spine and maintaining a healthy weight. The more weight we carry, the more pressure that is exerted onto the spinal column, which can result in herniated discs. Also, good posture is imperative to a healthy spine. Slouching puts undue pressure on the spine, so keeping it straight can help prevent problems later on. Proper lifting, focusing on the leg strength, not the back strength, can also keep discs from rupturing or bulging.
Herniated discs are quite common and while there are no guarantees that they can be avoided as we age, proper stretching, exercise and correct posture can help to keep the spine and discs in the right alignment. If you start to experience back pain, it is important to contact a doctor or a chiropractor to determine the extent and the cause of your discomfort and then to start a program or treatment to fix the issue. Being proactive and seeing a doctor when you start to experience pain can possibly alleviate the long-term effects of a herniated disc.
To prevent lower back injuries you should diversify your martial arts training with resistance training and cardiovascular exercises. Finding a personal trainer to help you do focus exercises to strengthen the lower back is something all martial artists should consider.