How do I know if I have a disc bulge?
The spine is a misunderstood creature. The spine is an engineering masterpiece (well done Mother Nature!) with amazing design features.
The careful shape of the bones (vertebrae) carries our weight and protects the delicate spinal cord, while the discs cushion force as we move. The ligaments and muscles re-inforce this pillar of strength, allowing us to stand up, move, run and jump, while still protecting all the delicate nerves that allow the rest of our body to work. Amazing hey?
The spine is a very strong, resilient structure, but unfortunately many people don't think of it that way.
"I've got a bad back"
"I can't do that anymore because I hurt my back"
Yes, if you have acute back pain (6 weeks or less since the injury), you should be careful about what you're doing, as you gradually return back to doing all your normal activities, but 6-12 weeks, you really should be able to do just about everything again, and within 6 months, if you can't do absolutely everything normally, you should be seeking professional help (physiotherapist or doctor) ASAP so you can find out how to get back to 100%
So the big question:
How do I know if I have a disc bulge?
Well, how old are you?
If you're 30 or older, chances are you would have a disc bulge from time to time.
Don't be scared by this news. A spinal disc is a fluid structure, made up of a central section, and an outer ring. It's a strong structure, designed to be used non-stop for 60, 70 or 80+ years. Depending on how much you do of various activities, a disc can start to bulge slightly, although in most cases it is not symptomatic (you won't feel it's happening).
A disc bulge can then correct itself back to "normal", as long as you don't do too much repetitive movement in the one direction, or sit in the same position for long periods of time.
What can I do to look after my spinal discs?
There's some very simple rules to look after your back, and as always....
PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE!
So here's the rules:
1) Exercise regularly - the fitter and stronger you are, the more resilient you'll be in day to day activites, minimising load on your spinal discs
2) Avoid sitting for long periods (>30 mins at a time) - most of us can't sit "well" for longer than this, so to avoid putting load on your spine in a poor position, get up and move to let your spine have a break
3) Do "posture reversals" - Huh?? If you have to bend forwards a lot in your day (think builder, childcare worker, cleaner), let your spine bend in the opposite direction, by standing, putting your hands on your bottom and arching backwards 10 times as far as is comfortable (do not hold!). Sitting is equivalent to bending forwards, so if you sit for work, do these back arches too.
4) Keep your weight in the healthy range - added weight around your belly tends to cause a bigger arch in your lower back, putting stress on all the structures in your spine. Seek advice from your doctor to help you achieve a healthy weight.
5) Seek professional help - If you don't have any symptoms or back pain, there's still things a physiotherapist can help you with, such as:
- How can I improve my posture?
- Do I have good core strength?
- How should I set up my chair at work?
- Is my car set-up well to support my back?
So my take home message:
- Don't be scared of movement, your spine is designed to do it
- Be sensible about what you do, it takes time to get strength and fitness back after injury or some time off
- Seek professional help if you have any questions at all (physiotherapist of doctor), we're here to help and some simple advice can make a huge difference for years to come
There's so much we can do to help prevent disc bulges and back pain, so if you have any questions, just ask us - click here to Ask A Physio.
If you have an injury you'd like to know more about, let me know and I'd be happy to write a quick article about it for you. Email me here firstname.lastname@example.org
Aspire Physiotherapy SA
18 Partridge St Glenelg SA