Physical therapy for herniated discs is one of the usual conservative treatments offered to many patients with herniated disc symptoms. Although physical therapy is a wonderful facet of the medical system, it is not a particularly useful modality for resolving chronic herniated disc pain.
Critical medical providers have long questioned the recommendation for undergoing physical therapy for patients with structural back pain. Remember, true disc pain is enacted due to anatomical changes within the spinal canal, involving compression or chemical irritation of neurological tissues. No amount of exercise or stretching will ever change the central or foraminal canal anatomy or heal a definitively symptomatic herniation.
This article will investigate why physical therapy is so commonly utilized for herniated disc sufferers. We will detail its best applications and also shed light on some areas of care where physical therapy comes up short.
What is Physical Therapy for Herniated Discs?
Physical therapy for herniated discs consists of applied techniques of movement, exercise and stretching, designed to increase the patient’s range of motion and flexibility. While the treatments will help a patient learn to move around more comfortably, they will not do anything at all to cure the actual herniated disc condition. Most patients with structural disc pain will not enjoy considerable benefits from physical therapy.
However, being that many disc pain syndromes are actually misdiagnosed, there are many patients who do enjoy pain relief using physical therapy practices. Typically, these patients feel better since exercise and movement increases localized circulation, and therefore, cellular oxygenation. Remember that oxygen deprivation is one of the main sources of chronic neck or back pain which is commonly mistakenly blamed on a herniated disc.
Physical therapy is also great when the herniated disc theory is wrong, but the true underlying cause of pain is due to some soft tissue condition, such as muscle imbalance or deficiency.
Physical Therapy for Disc Pain Problems
If you ask most doctors exactly what physical therapy is supposed to do to cure a herniated disc, they will generally tell you that the exercises and mobilizing activities might help to increase the healing response and may reduce discomfort in the surrounding area. They will also mention how PT will increase the muscular strength of the surrounding region, in order to better support the spine. While this is true, is this an ideal treatment for a herniated disc? Well, not compared to modalities which might actually change the structure of the painful disc, thereby resolving the symptoms completely.
Physical therapy is a long-term process which may or may not enact some benefits over the course of weeks or months. Consider that 1 month of spinal decompression treatment might completely cure the pain permanently and I think the best choice of treatment should be obvious, if the diagnosis is correct.
Objective View of Physical Therapy for Herniated Discs
I am not criticizing physical therapy in any way. In fact; I am a big fan of physical therapists. Exercise therapy is a crucial part of recovering from a back injury and physical therapy is indicated to help a herniated disc patient overcome the considerable physical and psychological restrictions created by any chronic pain condition. PT is also the best way of recuperating from any surgical intervention.
However, physical therapy is rarely a cure in itself for a herniated disc. I would recommend finding a cure to resolve the disc condition first and using physical therapy to regain lost functionality after all the pain is gone.
Please consider the fact that herniated discs are not the actual source of pain in many diagnosed patients. Using physical therapy in these cases may inhibit proper diagnosis by many more months, since the true cause will not be found until therapy is abandoned due to poor curative results.
Remember also that PT treatment will help control ischemic back pain, but will do nothing to resolve the underlying source of the oxygen deprivation when a mindbody process is the root cause of suffering.