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physiotherapy

Back pain

Slipped Disc: What is it and how to fix it

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Slipped discs are very common, right? Well, to tell you the truth… they don’t actually happen! Find out what a slipped disc really is and how YOU can sort it out yourself.

Slipped disc, Herniated disc, disc bulge and sciatica are all interchangeable and often used to explain the same thing. Now I need to say first of all that intervertebral discs cannot actually “slip” as they are firmly attached to the vertebrae above and below vertebrae by very strong ligaments – Slipped disc is just a colloquial term which has bred a lot of fear over the years but really there is nothing to fear!

The two common sites for herniated discs are the lumbar spine (low back) and the Cervical spine (neck). Today we are going to cover the low back as this is the most common, but stay tuned for self-treatment of herniated discs in the neck!

Discs cannot actually “slip” as they are firmly attached to the vertebrae above and below vertebrae by very strong ligaments

Basic anatomy:

lumbar anatomy - slipped discs and herniation

The spine is made up of vertebrae stacked on top of each other, held together by ligament and muscle. in between each vertebra is an intervertebral disc. Now in the lumbar spine, there are 5 vertebrae and the most common level for disc herniations are L5/S1 – this is the Disc between your lowest lumbar vertebrae and your Sacrum. roughly 80% occur here with the second most at L4/5 above it.

The Lumbar discs are made up of a harder outer layer, holding in a gooey middle.

How does a Disc herniation occur?

When too much force is repeatedly put through the front of the disc (such as bending forward, slouching and lifting heavy objects) the gooey center of the disc is forced forward and eventually (after thousands of bends)it forces through the outer layer.

A lot of Discs are injured doing very simple things light, changing a light bulb or picking up a baby but it is not that action that does it, it is a build up over time and it can take any little thing to tip it over the edge!

Now there is different levels of disc damage as you can see in the picture below:

disc bulge levels herniation - how to fix slipped disc

Now, sequestrations are serious and often need surgery but the remaining levels can be and should be treated conservatively (non-surgically) first.

Depending on the level of disc herniation, they can cause symptoms in different places down the leg due to the nerve roots that get annoyed. Keep in mind though that Disc herniations often do not have pain or change on sensation into the legs – there is a very wide range of presentations.

Herniated disc symptoms: You can have some or all of these.

  • Pain worse in the morning and cold/bad weather
  • Sciatica – Common back and leg pain caused by irritation to one of the 5 Lumbar spinal nerves. The nerves are irritated by the disc compressing on it or inflammation from the disc herniation. This usually only occurs down one leg.
  • Back spasm – often people are given this as a diagnosis but muscle spasm DOES NOT HAPPEN FOR NO REASON – there is always something behind it. Muscles around your back tighten up and go into spasm to protect your back and try to stabilize it so that no more damage is done.This is called muscle guarding and is a natural mechanism initially but in the following days, it can lead to a lot of discomfort, pain, and limitation.
  • disc bulge, slipped disc, herniation - self treatment physiotherapyAggravated by sitting, prolonged standing, bending and twisting.

Recovery and healing time

Recovery: Up to 80 percent recover within 6 weeks

Healing time: 12-18 months due to poor blood flow into the discs.

When to go to the hospital or see your Doctor

  • Weakness in your legs
  • Change in bladder or bowel (toileting) function.
  • Constant unremitting pain or pain not improving

If in doubt see your local health professional as this information is not meant to replace the assessment and advice of a health professional.

“Slipped disc” Self-treatment

1. keep active: back in the day bed rest was the first port of call, now it is the opposite. keeping relatively active is the best thing for your back and you need to remember that the chances are your back will get better and that over 80% of the population get back pain just like yours!

2. Exercises: to get the right muscles firing again to stabilize your spine and to loosen off the tight muscles (so that you dont feel hunched over and shuffling!) follow this link: Must know exercises for acute low back pain

3. Stiffness in your upper spine puts a huge amount more stress though your low spine and gets worse when in back pain! Here is a great way to mobilise your own spine

4. The greatest exercise for Disc Herniations: this exercise was developed by a top Physiotherapist Robin McKenzie. Repeated Extensions In Lying (REIL) act to centralise the disc and gradually reduce the disc Herniation.

Prone extensions in lying McKenzie exercise for disc low back pain

Position: Lying on your Front with your hands in front of you like you are going to do a push up.

Action: Keeping your hips and back relaxed, push your shoulders up. Do not push into pain, so stop when and if you feel pain and hold it for 10 seconds then relax down and repeat 10 times.

Initially start on you elbows as shown, then progress to straight arms.

Prone extensions in lying McKenzie exercise for disc low back pain physiotherapy

Reps and sets: 10 x 10 second holds 3 x daily


Remember: if pain worsens with this exercise do not push as far or as hard. If pain continues to worsen then consult a health professional.

These easy steps will help you so much, just remember that you WILL have good days and bad days but if you stick to the above 4 things, your Disc pain will get a lot better. Try and persevere with these exercises for 6 weeks at least!

Let me know how you get on and don’t forget to like, share and follow and remember, a slipped disc doesn’t exist!

For a more thorough rehab plan, download our Complete Low Back Self-Rehab Guide

Also see: progressed exercises for keeping back pain away


Back pain, Core strengthening

Acute Low Back Pain – Getting up and moving

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Low back pain is an incredibly common condition and is the single most common thing I see in practice every day. Luckily there are some great exercises to do early on to get you up and moving.

The following facts show just how seriously we should take back pain!

The bad

  • Low back pain affects 84% of the population at some point in their lives (1,2)
  •  38% of people have back pain each year (3)
  • Close links with low back pain and neck pain (15 fold increased the risk of neck pain)

The Good

  • 50-80% recover within 4-6 weeks
  • This is not uncommon

It may feel really sore and at times disabling but as long as you follow my recommendations below you have a good chance of recovering 100%

In most cases, the majority of low back pain is not serious. What a lot of health professionals do not tell their patients is that 85% of low back pain is categorized as “Non-specific low back pain”. This means that the pain and disability do not have a definitive cause or diagnosis. This non-specific low back pain is what we will be talking about today and I will be giving you the information and exercises to get you walking right and up straight again.

Because 50-80% of people recover in 6 weeks the usual advice is to take painkillers and keep active – but the thing is there is more you can do to speed it along!

First I need to say, yes there is the remaining 15% of back pain that is specific and does have a diagnosis so it is important to have these ruled out and see your doctor – especially if the pain is not improving.

Below I am going to outline a guideline for getting your back to the best it can be when you experience acute low back pain.

Phase 1. Initial inflammatory phase:

This is the stage where most likely it is uncomfortable to walk, bend over etc and you just want to curl up in a ball and stay there (that will not help!). In this phase you need to abide by the Tips below:

  • Number one rule is to keep moving, within reason. This prevents the structures around the spine such as the muscles in spasm from stiffening up too much. This is also very important in order to decrease the loss of stabilizing muscle activity. Now you don’t need to continuously keep moving – just don’t stay in one position for a long period (more than 20 minutes).

Bed rest is one of the worst things for back pain

  • Gentle range of motion exercise: knee rocker – Lying on your back with your knees bent up and feet on the ground – slowly let your knees drop to one side, and then the other. This is a gentle exercise and not to be forced or pushed into pain. Little and often throughout the day.
  • Safe sleeping positions: The best position is in side-lying with your knees bent up a little and a pillow between the knees. This position decreases the forces on the spine and allows muscles to relax.
  • If you must sleep on your back then have a pillow under your knees to unload the spine.
  • Stretch to straighten up: when in back pain your hip flexors tighten up and put a shear force through your spine and cause you to have a bent over, shuffling posture.

hip flex 1hip flex 2

Tip: to get a good stretch “tuck your bum in” or draw your front hip bones towards the roof. You should feel it in the front of your thigh or hip.

Hold for 1 minute.

Phase 2. Recovery:

In this phase, the main things causing stiffness and pain are muscles that are tight and in spasm in your hips, glutes and low back.

1. Glute stretch: To get into the below stretch, start in four-point kneeling and bring one knee forward between your hands. then extend you

To get into the below stretch, start in four-point kneeling and bring one knee forward between your hands. Then, extend your other leg out behind you and across to the other side. Lean forward in this until you feel a stretch in your glute region. To add more of a stretch, walk your hands out in front of you. Hold for 1 minute each side

glut and Lat stretch - Hip flexibility glut and Lat stretch - Hip flexibility

2. Hip flexor stretch: as above in phase 1

3. Bird-dog exercise:

In four-point kneeling slowly raise one arm and leg on opposite sides, making sure to keep your back straight (imagine your dinner is sitting on your hips – it is all about control). Lower down in control and repeat, 10 times each side twice.

Beginners: Start by raising one leg only.

birddog 1birddog 2

4. Bridge, level one:

START POSITION: Lying on your back with your knees bent.
Stabilization: Tighten abdominals.
Squeeze your buttocks together and lift buttocks off the floor until your body is aligned. Hold for 5 seconds and then lower down. repeat 10 times twice.

Brideg - up Brideg 1 legges - up

Phase 3: Strengthening and back stability – and maintain!

To do this make it a routine to do my top five Low back pain exercises daily.

Maintaining core stability is important in preventing flare-ups and ensuring you at your best if flare-ups do happen, to speed up recovery.

Thanks for reading and remember looking after your back is ALWAYS important, not just when it is sore.

Looking for a more detailed self-rehab plan? Download our Complete Low Back Self-Rehab Guide


Health, physical therapy, physiotherapy

Therapeutic Ultrasound – Why is it still used?

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With therapeutic ultrasound not having a definite mechanism of action on injuries and having no significant evidence behind it  – I ask why ultrasound is still used so much as a treatment for musculoskeletal injuries?

Too often when treating in the clinic I am asked either “do you use ultrasound”, “why don’t you use ultrasound” or “normally my past physio just used ultrasound and a heat pack…”

Now I know everything has its place and its uses but when there are so much better alternatives than therapeutic ultrasound that do actually help more that placebo – why not use them?

Now, here is a little background info on ultrasound:

ultrasoundtherapyWhat it is: Therapeutic ultrasound (US) is a popular electrophysical treatment method that generates mechanical energy which propagates through tissues (1). Among physiotherapists, it is used to treat soft tissue injuries, accelerate the wound’s repair, augment fracture healing, on swellings resolution and to solve some bone and circulatory injuries.

Although many lab‐based studies have demonstrated a number of physiological effects of ultrasound upon living tissue, there is remarkably little evidence for real effect and benefit in the treatment of soft tissue injuries(2).

How much is it used?

Therapeutic US is still used almost daily throughout many countries as a go-to treatment for acute injuries and overuse injuries such as runners knee.

  • In Australia, it is used DAILY by 84% of health professionals
  • in England, it is used in 54% of all interventions in private clinics(1)

There are some countries which are ahead of the game with such as Sweden, where it is used less than 5% of the time and this needs to be followed by other developed countries(3).

EBP triadWhat’s the evidence then?

In most studies, therapeutic ultrasound proved to be no better than Placebo for a wide range of musculoskeletal conditions (4,5), and that there is a lot of variation in parameters used.

I could go into detail but the main point is, therapeutic US has been shown to be no better than placebo or exercises(6), so why would a therapist waste ten minutes of treatment time when they could be doing something else?

Evidence-based practice is becoming increasingly important in physiotherapy as we want to use what works for our patients – So why is US use still so rife in the profession? Is it lack of motivation, education or just plain lazy?

Let me know your thoughts!

 

Extra reading:

Paul Ingrahams post in a similar vein is a great read

 


Core strengthening, running, Spine

The importance of Core Stability on injury

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core strength minimizes lower limb injuryHaving a stable core and pelvis has huge benefits through-out the body, including laying a stable base for your legs to work off. This means more bio-mechanical efficiency, less injury AND less pain.

In order to do any lower limb exercise well, including running, squat, weight lifting, tennis etc, you need to be in control of your core. If you don’t have a stable base, everything working off it is going to struggle and compensate. This can lead to tight hip flexors, ITB syndrome, patellofemoral pain, ankle sprains, niggles and more.

Imagine a tennis shot, for example. Your are stepping forward and driving off your back foot while at the same time swinging your raquet forward to strike the ball. If you core isn’t in control then you are losing force between your legs and arms – losing that strength of the drive from your legs.

Core strength makes your body stronger, not just your abs, by conserving and transmitting energy.

Just for clarification, as “core” can mean different things to different people. Core for me is your Lumbo-Pelvic stability. The combined control and strength of your spine and pelvic muscles.

Quick self test: A great way to test and see how good your Lumbo-pelvic stability is yourself is to do the Single Leg Squat Test. If you see your hip dropping or knee tracking inwards, then you are at risk or injury and need to get started strengthening ASAP.

 

Poor core stability can also lead to and contribute to all sorts of injuries and pain, including in your:

  • Low back
  • Shoulder and neck
  • Knee and hip

 

So how do we sort this problem you ask?

Below is an exercise program to get started on that will really make a difference if you stick to it. I also fully recommend finding a good Physio in your area to have your specific deficits assessed to get some manual therapy to speed things up.

Exercises to improve Core stability:


1. Single leg Bridge:Bridge 1 leg - glute activation, leg strength and core stability. the best exercise for hip stabiltiy, great for runners

Position: lying on your back, bend one knee so that your heel is close to your backside and straighten the other leg as above so that your thighs are horizontal. Your arms can be crossed over your chest or down by your side to make it easier.

Action: Pushing through your grounded heel, lift your bum off the ground as above, straighten your back and hold for 30 seconds then lower and repeat on both sides.

 

2. Clam Plus: (Do them right and they are surprisingly hard!)Clam exercise plus - gluteus medius strengthening, pelvic stability, leg strength

Position: Side lying  with top elbow on the ground, knees bent, ankles together and importantly the top knee sticking out 1-2 inches further that the bottom knee.

Action: Making sure not to let your pelvis rotate backwards and keeping your ankles together – lift your top knee up roughly 20cm and lower down in control. Reps: Build up to 50 reps on each side.

If you have found in the past that normal clams don’t do much for you, try it this way with your hip s rolled forward more to isolate Glute Med better and get less Tensor Fasciae latae activation.

 

3. Double or single leg squatSingle leg Squat, Glut Med activation - hip stability and strength:DL squat
Try performing the Single leg squat, but if you are too unstable (cannot stop your knee going inwards) then start with the double leg squats.

Single leg: 2 sets of 12 reps

Double leg: 3 sets of 12 reps

Tips: stick your bottom out like you are going to sit down and keep your knees out!

 

4. Front Plank: 
plank

Hold this for 60  seconds (if you can, otherwise build up to this).

Tip: do not hang on your hip flexors, tuck your bottom in and bring your hip bones up towards your head.

 

 

 

 

5. Side plank: side plank

Again aim for 60 seconds here, keeping your body straight!

 

Too easy? Add in leg raises to this – Raising the top leg straight up and down, building up to 50.

 

 

Do this short program  DAILY and stick to it for at least 6 weeks -Let me know how you go!

 

You may also be interested in:

Iron out your running – What you never got taught

Get your spine moving

Smash your Glutes


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