A herniated disc is a common condition that specifically affects the intervertebral discs which cushion and protect the vertebrae. When the disc’s outer layer ruptures, the soft inner layer can protrude, putting pressure on nearby nerves and causing pain. Physical therapy is often an effective treatment option for a herniated disc and can help patients manage their pain, improve their range of motion, and prevent future injuries.
Types of Physical Therapy Used to Treat a Herniated Disc
Different kinds of physical therapy provide different benefits and may help guide you in your recovery. Keep reading to find out what may work best for you.
1. Passive Physical Therapy
Passive physical therapy involves treatments that are performed on the patient, rather than by the patient. Common types of passive physical therapy for a herniated disc include:
- Heat therapy: Applying heat to the affected area can help reduce pain and stiffness by improving blood flow and relaxing tense muscles. This can be done using a heating pad, hot towels, or a warm bath.
- Ice therapy: Ice therapy can help reduce inflammation and numb pain by constricting blood vessels and reducing blood flow to the affected area. This can be done using a cold pack, ice bath, or ice massage.
- TENS therapy: Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy involves applying a low-level electrical current to the affected area to help reduce pain and improve circulation.
- Ultrasound therapy: Ultrasound therapy uses high-frequency sound waves to stimulate deep tissues and promote healing.
2. Active Physical Therapy
Active physical therapy involves exercises and other treatments that are performed by the patient, with the guidance of a physical therapist. Common types of active physical therapy for a herniated disc include:
- Stretching exercises: Stretching exercises help improve flexibility and range of motion, and may reduce pain and stiffness.
- Core strengthening exercises: These exercises may help improve the stability of the spine and reduce the risk of future injuries.
- Aerobic exercise: This improves cardiovascular health, reduces inflammation, and promotes weight loss.
- Manual therapy: Manual therapy involves hands-on treatments like massage, joint mobilization, and spinal manipulation.
3. Education and Lifestyle Modifications
Physical therapy for a herniated disc often involves education and lifestyle modifications as well. A physical therapist often provides guidance on proper posture, body mechanics, and ergonomics. Common lifestyle modifications that may be recommended for patients with a herniated disc include:
- Using proper lifting techniques: Patients with a herniated disc should avoid lifting heavy objects and should use proper lifting techniques when lifting lighter objects.
- Maintaining a healthy weight: Excess weight can put additional pressure on the spine and exacerbate symptoms of a herniated disc. Losing weight may reduce this pressure and improve symptoms.
- Taking frequent breaks: Patients with a herniated disc should avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time and should take frequent breaks to stretch and move around.
Physical therapy is often a safe and effective treatment option for seniors with a herniated disc. With the help of a physical therapist, seniors can manage their pain, improve their mobility, and maintain their independence.
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