Here I explain my treatment for a bulging disc; a topic I know very well, unfortunately. I’m 26 years of age and have been living with 2 herniated discs for approximately 5 years now. I can’t believe I haven’t written about this sooner since it so drastically changed my life and continues to in almost every facet of my being to this day. It’s such normal thing for me now that I don’t even notice the pain or the management of it in my day to day activities.
I watched Syriana yesterday and what reminded me of my pain was that I remembered George Clooney during the filming of this movie experienced a bad back injury. And apparently, he still suffers from pain stemming from this affliction even now.
I was at a birthday party one night and as these nights usually go, I was a little bit inebriated. I was walking (wobbling) down this hill when I thought I’d do some sort of army roll down it. Surprisingly, I successfully executed this roll but when I stood up I felt this searing pain in my lower back above my bum. I hid the pain pretty well despite its intensity. I had to, I was in front of all my mates and I didn’t want to look like a loser who just hurt himself doing something dumb. I went to the bathroom and lifted up the back of my shirt and looked at my back in the mirror to see if there was cut or bruise or a nail sticking out of my spine. But nothing. The night carried nonetheless and I did my best to ignore the pain.
The next morning,
not only could I not get out my bed because of my new found friend, chronic back pain, but I was also hung-over. Over the next week I thought my back would heal and the pain would subside. Then over the next few weeks, I went to a chiropractitioner and a physio to give it a bit of a hurry-along to heal because I thought it was still just a trivial injury. Months past and the pain was still there. I went to the doctor, had X-rays done and was soon given the diagnosis of herniated discs between L4/L5 and L5 S1.
Wtf is a herniated disc?
I know I can’t bend over too well, can’t lift heavy things, sitting hurts and every now and then I getting a shooting pain down my legs that I can feel in
I now know that a herniated/slipped/bulging disc is when too much pressure between your vertebrae compresses on that disc causing the interior jelly of your disc to leak into the outer layer giving that bulging look. That bulge rests on a nerve causing the pain. It is irreparable damage but measures can be taken to reduce or even eliminate the pain. Nevertheless, something must be done because if no action is taken to correct this problem, it can worsen. The whole disc can rupture and the disc liquid can spill out of the outer layer of the disc into your spine which causes howling pain and some serious medical treatment.
For a long time I thought this happened to me because of that fateful night involving lots of firewater and a beautifully carried out commando roll. After much debate, reading and hard thinking I’ve come to the conclusion that the wheels for my back injury were set in motion a long time ago. And that forward roll was just the stick that broke the camel’s back. I’ve discovered the years preceding my injury were filled with dangerous sports and activities, lifting things too heavy, the wrong way while being unfit and inflexible.
How did I earn my back pain stripes?
I played rugby union for a couple of years which every time you’re tackled has the same effect as being in a mini car accident.
I grew up on a banana farm where cutting and lifting bunches was a regular thing, they weigh anywhere from 20 to 50 kilograms. Plus, you can exactly lift these things correctly like a nice square box either.
The main culprit which I think has had the most impact on my back is a misbalance in my muscles throughout my entire body over several years. And this is caused mainly by sitting down. Sitting down has a lot to answer for. It’s amazing how an issue in one part of your body has a detrimental effect for somewhere and something else entirely in another part.
So a treatment for a bulging disc is incredibly tricky and I’m not a doctor. So take this advice with a pinch of salt knowing that what has/n’t worked for me, may/not work for you. Needed to be said, I’m to walk you through my findings and suggestions. First, what I still do and second what I have tried.
Stretching……..Even if it’s the only thing you do!
I’ll start with the best and most helpful first. I’d love to know what George Clooney does for his back. But if I had to guess, I bet it would involve a stretching regime. It is the single most effective material thing bought or action done to relieve back pain and its long term. A muscle imbalance would be the most likely thing to have caused your bulging disc and be the most likely to cure it.
**Literally, cure it.**
You have to realize that muscles should be flexible and strong. An underused muscle becomes tight and weak. Imagine your muscles, nerves and tendons as steel cables with different tensions throughout your skeleton. Now, imagine someone tightening and loosening those cables. Now, move around. You can actually visualize your body moving, feeling and aching in a different way than before. Certain steel cables (muscles, tendons, nerves) can put added pressure on the spine, and that pressure is taken up in the shock pads in your back, the discs.
Over time your discs won’t be able to cope with that pressure. Particularly, if this pressure is building and you’re lifting heavy things, sitting down too much or playing silly buggers when you’re drunk. One day it simply gives way.
Good news though, if you can reverse this pressure by stretching and correcting these imbalances, you can open up the space between your vertebrae. Your disc should fit back into this space and stop rubbing on a nerve, causing your pain. The disc won’t heal fully by the fluid going back into the disc; however it will return to its initial position as long as you keep up your stretches.
My main stretches involve:
Lower – Groin, calves, glutes (bum), hamstrings, quadriceps and hip flexors
Upper – Chest, biceps, triceps, deltoids, traps, lats and neck
I recommend you go to a physiotherapist and ask to have a muscle imbalance test done and they’ll give you some stretches to do. For me, because I sit down a fair bit, I had to stretch my hip flexors and strengthen my glutes. It has helped incredibly. You could also read this book and test yourself and determine your own regime. I’ve read it, life changing.
From What I’ve Tried to What I do, What I don’t
Chiropractic – I believed in them then I didn’t, then I did, then I didn’t. My treatment for a bulging disc is about 50/50 with using a chiro. I wouldn’t let them anywhere near my neck anymore, there was nothing wrong with it yet they always feel the need to manipulate it anyway. I wouldn’t let a Chiropractitioner work on me without a massage beforehand so that my back is at least moderately warm and ready. I also believe that a slight massage afterwards is necessary so that the movement in my back can set and stay that way for longer. Most usually take only 15 minutes and as soon as their done shift you out onto the sidewalk. However, I do find relief with what they do. They can detect my problems in my back without me telling them so there is some substance to their craft. The trick is finding one who actually wants to help and doesn’t have you coming back every week.
Physiotherapy – Physios are the professionals who have helped me the most, even more than doctors. Doctors simply diagnose the problem and prescribe drugs to numb the pain, not fix it. Physios on the other hand, go to the root of the problem. However, it is mostly up to you. They give you strengthening and stretching course to follow but you have to do the work. Physios are only as good as the progress they see in you. If that makes sense. There’s no use going to one every week, to get a massage from them, tell them lies you’re feeling better and then be in pain the next day. Help them, help you, and they’ll bring you long term results.
Acupuncture/Cupping – I like theory behind this treatment. In practice though, I’ve find no real relief. The idea that it targets knots/pressure points or tightness in your back and disperses that evil seems to me like a great way to battle pain. But for some reason I never get the results I want. May work for you though.
Massage – Does it feel good and relax you? Yes. Does it help with back pain at all? No. Well, not for me.
Pilates Machine – To add to the stretching, strengthening exercise must done on a consistent basis as well. I find jogging and cycling are helpful. The biggest thing though is a Pilates machine. If your core is strong, it takes the strain off some of your back muscles therefore decreases the pain. I’ve found this to be an incredible long term solution for back pain. Most times you can buy a machine and a booklet will come along with it containing suggestions to help with lower back pain. I went to a physio and asked for some Pilates exercises that were specifically for my situation. You can also join a gym with these sorts of machines; however I love the convenience of my own machine. Can I also say as well that push ups has done my back wonders in terms of pain reduction and core strengthening.
I’d also like to add here that back surgery should be absolutely boycotted. For a bulging disc, if you have surgery to remove some of your disc to take pressure off the nerve, the underlying cause of the problem still exists. Muscle imbalances will still exist and continue to exert force on the vertebrae and again push out the disc, requiring more surgery. Stay away from scalpels.
Inversion Tables – Personally I like inversion tables. I like the approach that gravity is working against you every hour of the day and is only reversed at night when you’re asleep. So a machine that immediately and acutely opens up your vertebrae and allows disc space has to be good. There is a lot of debate surrounding this one though. A debate whether it is short term or long term relief and whether it works at all. I’ve found it does work but it is only short term. I researched this a bit and there are people who say, a few hours on one of these will cure back pain. I’ve found this to be a fallacy. Nowadays, I only use it for 15 minutes a day or when there is pain. I wasn’t finding any long term benefits and felt I was wasting much of my time hanging upside down like a bat. I recommend one of these. A good side effect as well is that it increases blood to the brain and supposedly you’re actually smarter for a little while afterwards.
Mattress – We sleep for a third of our lives so the importance of a good mattress is imperative. I’m not going to go into this too much because there are 5 million options for a good mattress so I’ll keep it simple. It needs to be a double bed for room to move. It needs to relatively hard but at the same time comfortable. Don’t do what I did and sleep on a mattress that’s harder than concrete, not good. A mattress that when you lay on it, you can feel you’re back has relaxed since the curvature of your spine is being supported. Sleep with 4 pillows too; you can put them around you in places that support you even further.
Sleep is important as well because it’s the only time the body is doing some serious healing. So you want to maximize this.
Ergonomic Chair – This is a good idea but I don’t have one because my pain management regime works sufficiently enough that I can get away with sitting in any chair. If I do experience some discomfort with a chair though, I immediately stand up. I can almost tell now whether a chair is going to give me some trouble or not just by looking at it. I know not to sit on crates or chairs with no backing. If I’m reading or studying for long periods of time, I tend to lie down. Ergonomic chairs though are beneficial. The design takes away the repetitive stress of sitting by channeling some of your body’s weight to your hips, legs, knees or feet. It is designed more to replicate how body wants to sit. Because think about it, in the cave men days we used to kneel or squat. The human body hasn’t really been sitting in chairs for that long in comparison to our existence. We’re not designed to sit, we’re designed to move. An ergonomic chair will help those who work in a white collar situation.
Cold/Hot Pack – Speaks for itself, doesn’t it. Know this though; use the pack with heat to subside the pain in your back when there is no injury, but just that same dull, chronic pain. Use the pack as a cold pack if you have injured or strained your back. For example, you’ve fallen out a tree and injured your back even further; it will help with the swelling and start the healing process. I fell out of a tree.
Sprays – Use a spray as immediate pain relief. It’s only a short term solution and barely lasts more than a couple of hours. I use it to go to sleep with. There a plenty out there, a pharmacist or chemist is your best bet.
Stretching Strap – To help with my stretching, I use a stretching strap for my hamstrings. I lay on the ground with one leg in the air and a strap around my foot. I find I can stretch every part on the back of my leg.
Roller – A half roller or full roller is physio therapists tool to get your back moving again. It is a great thing to have in your arsenal to instantly relieve back pain. Just put it on the ground and lie on it, that’s it. A rolled up towel serves as a good substitute as well, I just got sick of washing them all the time though.
Calf Block – I’ve been told that my tight calves exacerbate my back pain. When I walk, none of my elasticity in my step comes from my calves but from the rest of my body, including my back. True story. So now I use a calf block to help stretch out my calves and get them back to doing their job and release the strain on the rest of my body.
Magnesium and Fish Oil – Magnesium is a great muscle relaxant. I find it helps with the stretching and the loosening of my whole body. Fish oil has great anti-inflammatory properties. I take this to help deal with the pain.
My conclusion for the treatment of a bulging disc will be short and basically rests with me further stressing a few key points. Which are, you must stretch, you must strengthen, I’ve discovered it’s the only real long term solution. But to do this, in the short term you must be somewhat pain free to workout. And to do this, see medical professionals such as physios, limit sitting, use sprays, sleep in a good mattress and take the right supplements. It’s a battle but with the right advice and plan you can eventually become what I know you so much desire, PAIN FREE!!
Do you suffer from back pain and think you can add to this? Did you read something that corresponds with you own experiences. What is your treatment for a bulging disc? Let me know below!
Thanks for reading. and if you have any questions or queries about breaking out of back pain, please comment.
Cheers MCM’s Rohan.