Herniating a spinal disc often causes significant pain or discomfort — and it’s a surprisingly common medical issue. According to StatPearls Publishing, “The incidence of a herniated disc is about 5 to 20 cases per 1000 adults annually and is most common in people in their third to the fifth decade of life, with a male to female ratio of 2:1.” And while not every person who herniates a disc (which is often colloquially called a slipped disc) experiences unrelenting agony, most have to deal with enough irritation to make them want to prevent re-herniating a disc.
This article will provide some general tips on how to prevent herniated discs, different herniated disc risk factors, and common bits of “wisdom” about herniated discs that are anything but sage.
Everyday Activities to Avoid with a Herniated Disc
If you’ve already had back troubles, you doubtlessly want to know about herniated disc risk factors. In a 2018 study, The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery reported that those with the greatest changes of re-herniating their spines included patients with #anular defects (i.e., tears in or damage to a spinal disc) that are 6mm or wider and patients who were female and more than 50 years old. If you find yourself in that demographic, there are a number of common activities you’ll want to avoid as part of your slipped disc management.
For example, try not to sit for extended periods of time. Publishing company Veritas Health explains that “sitting puts more stress on your spinal discs, especially when slouching forward in a seat.” Additionally, regular movement and moderate exercise can help strengthen muscles in your back that stabilize your spine.
Do not engage in activities that require lifting weight while bending forward or require a forward-lunging motion. StatPearls Publishing notes, “There are characteristic findings to herniated discs all along the vertebrae. The patient will likely recall an inciting injury, often due to lifting or twisting.” And if lifting or twisting can lead to a herniated disc in the first place, it can most certainly re-injure them.
Exercise carefully. Maintaining muscle tone and building strength go a long way toward protecting your spine, and exercises for slip disc treatment play a crucial role in patients’ ongoing health. Still, exercise poses risks, especially if you overextend yourself. And there are certain exercises you simply shouldn’t attempt if you’ve herniated a disc. Those include exercises requiring you to lift both legs while tightening your trunk muscles, exercises where you need to move your legs in circles, or bent-over rows, which can hurt your spine if you don’t maintain perfectly proper form.
Tips to Strengthen Your Lower Back to Prevent a Re-herniated Disc
If you have experienced a recurrent disc herniation and researched how to heal a herniated disc, you’ve doubtlessly read about the benefits of exercise. At first, such counsel can seem counterintuitive. How can motion and effort serve as an acute herniated disc treatment? A meta-analysis in BJM Open that examined the effectiveness of motor-control therapy (i.e., therapy that strengthens specific lumbar muscles) explained why, stating, “Control of the spine is complex and depends on well-coordinated, deep-trunk musculature. The deep-trunk musculature, which originates and inserts segmentally on lumbar vertebrae, can maintain the stiffness of the spine by controlling intersegmental motion and spinal curvature.”
In other words, carefully controlled exertion really can help stabilize your spine. While you will certainly want to avoid the movements we mentioned above, specific kinds of exercise can moderate your discomfort, stabilize your spine, and improve your quality of life. We’ve discussed exercise regimes to consider in other posts, and below you’ll find a list of body-weight and stretching-related movements that are generally appropriate for patients with spinal issues:
- Standing Piriformis Stretch
- Supine Piriformis Mobility Stretch (aka, Eye of the Needle Pose)
- Sitting Piriformis Stretch
- Seated Spinal Stretch
- Sciatic Nerve Flossing
- Reclining Pigeon Pose
- Upward Dog/Cobra
- Cat and Cow
- Side Plank
- Half Moon
Please note that these are only general guidelines. Not every exercise listed here is necessarily appropriate for every body type and medical situation. Consult with your medical professional prior to starting any new exercise regime.
6 Ways to Prevent Re-herniating a Disc
In addition to remaining physically active, there are other steps you can take to prevent a reherniation or flare up. Note that many of these options require lifestyle changes and aren’t a quick fix that will help protect your spine. They include:
- Avoiding lifting heavy objects or lifting with incorrect form. While workers whose jobs require much manual labor will struggle to follow this suggestion, many patients can easily avoid hefting heavy things. If you don’t want to re-herniate a disc, you should always position your body so that your legs take the brunt of the strain.
- Don’t hunch your back when sitting for extended periods, while standing, or while walking. Such poor posture places additional pressure on your discs.
- Try not to sleep on your stomach. Wondering how to sleep with herniated disc? Some medical professionals suggest sleeping on your back with a pillow under your knees or on your side. Sleeping on your stomach may strain your back.
- Opt for flats rather than high heels. According to Veritas Health, high heels “disrupt the natural curvature of your spine by shifting your weight forward. This can place increased stress on your lower back.”
- Stay slim. Maintaining an appropriate weight reduces compression of spinal discs and helps prevent re-injury.
- Stop smoking. A 2018 study published in Global Spine analyzed the cases of nearly 1,400 patients who required surgery for lumbar disc herniation, analyzing those who later needed a recurrent lumbar disc herniation procedure. Out of all the factors that the authors examined, the one variable most associated with the need for an additional spinal surgery was smoking.
Herniated Disc Symptoms You Should Know
Unfortunately, the symptoms of a herniated or re-herniated disc can vary wildly from case to case. Why? The American Association of Neurological Surgeons explains that it depends “on the position of the herniated disc and the size of the herniation. If the herniated disc is not pressing on a nerve, the patient may experience a low backache or no pain at all. If it is pressing on a nerve, there may be pain, numbness or weakness in the area of the body to which the nerve travels. Typically, a herniated disc is preceded by an episode of low back pain or a long history of intermittent episodes of low back pain.”
However, even this description doesn’t cover all the ways that a re-herniated disc may present itself. An injury to the lower back may result in the distinctive numbness, tingling, and burning that’s traditionally known as sciatica. If it occurs in the cervical spine, you may experience pain radiating down your arms or an arm, as well as more localized discomfort around the neck or shoulder blades.
Debunking Myths on Disc Herniation
Just like the ideas that getting a flu shot will give you the flu, an errant piece of gum can remain within your gut for years, and that everyone must absolutely drink exactly eight glasses of water a day, all sorts of myths abound about the nature of herniated discs. Some of these are:
- Every damaged disc is a major medical problem. It’s absolutely true that discs in danger of re-herniating can cause significant issues for patients. However, each case is different, and you needn’t automatically assume the worst.
- Compressed nerves lead to excruciating pain. Yes, pinching a nerve usually causes some sort of discomfort. Often it can be debilitating — but not always. Some patients report a more localized irritation in a foot or leg. Also, such pain can usually be effectively treated.
- One spinal surgery always leads to another. The entire point of this article is to emphasize the fact that it is possible to avoid re-herniating a disc after injuring it once before. Please note, though, that this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. Sometimes the nature of a herniated disc may require additional surgeries, but that isn’t set in stone.
- Spinal surgeons always recommend surgeries. Contrary to popular opinion, surgeons don’t always turn to surgery as their first option. Veritas Health notes, “While early surgical intervention may be recommended for severe pain and disability, non-surgical treatment is usually the first prescribed course of action.”
What to do about a Herniated Disc
Can a herniated disc reoccur despite your most diligent efforts? Sadly, the answer is yes. Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do to prevent another injury to a disc, especially when dealing with the vicissitudes of time and aging. Some of the myths that we discussed above would have you believe that spinal surgery is always a requirement for such recurrent injuries.
That’s simply not true, especially when dealing with The Spine Center. Our four fellowship-trained physicians have more than 50 years of combined experience. They also have a strong commitment to patient education and maximizing their pain-free mobility. We want you to know what your options are and how you can best get back to living your life. Contact the Spine Center or call us today at (847) 628-8147 to start your healing.