Back Slipped Disc
Bulged Disc, Disc Herniation, Disc Rupture
Your back may suffer an injury to the intervertebral disc that can have numerous terms describing mild to severe disc injuries. This article will hopefully explain the differences between the various descriptions used to variations of disc injuries.
What is a Bulging Disc?
A bulging disc injury is a common spine injury sustained to your spine’s intervertebral disc. It can occur in your lumbar spine (lower back), thoracic spine (upper and mid-back) or your cervical spine (neck).
A bulging disc commonly describes a slipped disc or a protruding disc. However, when the disc bulge is significant enough for the disc nucleus to come out of the annulus, it is known as a herniated disc. See diagram.
What is a Spinal Disc?
Spinal discs are the shock-absorbing rings of fibrocartilage and glycoprotein that separate your bony vertebral bodies while allowing movement at each spinal level, and enough room for the major spinal nerves to exit from the spinal canal and travel to your limbs.
The outer section of the spinal disc is the annulus. It consists of multi-directional fibrocartilaginous fibre layers. That are all densely packed to create a wall around the glycoprotein filled jelly-like disc nucleus.
The degree of spinal disc injury varies considerably from mild disc strains or internal derangements, mild-moderate-severe disc bulges through to complete disc rupture and herniation of the nucleus through the annular wall.
The fluid component, or disc nucleus, in the disc centre, is like the caramel inside a bar of chocolate. It usually moves within the annulus, adjusting to the pressures placed on your spine.
However, if you injure the annulus, the wall weakens, and the nucleus can press outwards on the weakened disc wall, causing your disc to bulge outwards.
A disc bulge (commonly referred to as slipped disc) can potentially press against or irritate the nerve where it exits from the spine. This nerve pinch can cause back pain, spasms, cramping, numbness, pins and needles, or pain in your legs.
What Causes a Bulging Disc?
When a bulging disc, disc herniation or disc rupture occurs, it is typically due to either:
- a pre-existing weakness in the annulus, or
- a sudden increase in pressure through the disc causing fibres of the annulus to tear.
You can group the causes of a spinal disc injury under three headings:
1. Accumulated Microtrauma
Repeated microtrauma over an extended period can lead to disc injury. The best example of accumulated micro trauma is poor posture.
Poor posture when sitting, standing and working, stresses your spine. Sustaining a slouching or forward bending of your spine leads to overstretching and weakness of the posterior fibrocartilage (or annulus) of the spinal discs. Over time, this leads to poor disc integrity and displacement of the disc nucleus fluid posteriorly. This displacement places your spinal joints and nerves under pain-causing pressure.
Your aim to continually maintain a good position includes regular postural change.
During your initial efforts to retrain a good posture, poor muscle endurance and posture awareness predisposes you to sag back into your old habits. In these instances, it is useful to note that supportive posture devices such as a lumbar roll, Basset spine support, kinesio taping or a back brace are available to help you maintain a lordotic curve to your lumbar spine during this transition phase.
You should regularly alter any sustained posture to allow your spine to move and remain healthy.
2. Sudden Unexpected Load
Sudden unexpected load to the intervertebral discs can also occur in traumatic situations, e.g. a motor vehicle accident. This excessive load may occur due to the nature of the sudden forces exerted through your body at the time of impact, and your body attempts to repel those forces.
Unexpected load or torsion of a disc can result in tearing of the annulus fibres and hence a disc injury. You should always lift any amount of weight using the correct postural lifting principles. Using poor lifting techniques, such as bending forward and pulling with your back may result in sudden and unexpected loading of the disc.
Ask your physiotherapist about these principles.
3. Genetic Factors
Spinal disc injury does have a genetic predisposition. The deficiencies discovered include a lesser tissue density and increased elastin component of the fibrocartilaginous fibres. These make up the annulus of the intervertebral disc. Other factors that may play a role could be environmental – such as excess abdominal fat, poor core stability, reduced lower limb strength, nature of occupation (e.g., heavy physical load versus light or no physical pressure).
Overall, genetic factors are mild to a moderate contributing factor in disc injuries, and if one does sustain a disc injury, it is rarely ‘genetic’. And you can’t change your genetics. All you can do is be more diligent in your back injury prevention.
Bulging Disc Symptoms
A bulging disc injury is suspected when your back pain is aggravated by:
- forward bending
- coughing or sneezing
Sciatica, leg pain, pins and needles, numbness or weakness, are commonly associated with more severe disc pathologies.
Altered bladder and bowel function can indicate a severe disc pathology, which should prompt immediate medical assessment.
How is a Bulging Disc Diagnosed?
Your physiotherapist or doctor will suspect a spinal disc injury based on the history of your injury and your symptom behaviour. Your physiotherapist will perform clinical tests to confirm a spinal disc injury and detect if you have any signs of nerve compression. The most accurate diagnostic tests to confirm the extent of your spinal disc injury are MRI and CT scans.
MRI scans often identify a disc bulge. X-rays do not show acute disc bulging. However, X-rays can show signs of chronic disc injury such as degenerative disc disease and disc narrowing.
Bulging Disc Treatment
Most minor and moderately bulging disc injuries are treated conservatively without the need for surgery. Torn fibres of the annulus will heal and the disc bulge to usually resolve fully. While this occurs, your bulging disc treatment centres on encouraging the fluid to return and remain in the centre of the disc. This rehabilitation keeps the torn fibres closer to one another and the structure of the annulus as healthy as possible.
Your physiotherapist will advise you on the best positions to stay in and may tape or brace your spine. They’ll also explain to you the postures to avoid, which can be detrimental to your recovery.
By maintain the disc fluid in the central position that you intend it to stay, you are helping Mother Nature to lay down its scar tissue optimally for an excellent long-term solution. Please remember that scar tissue formation will take at least six weeks, so the longer that you avoid aggravating postures, the better!
PHASE I – Pain Relief & Protection
Managing your pain is usually the main reason that you seek treatment for a bulging disc. In truth, it was the final symptom that you developed and should be the first symptom to improve.
You are managing your inflammation. Inflammation is the primary short-term reason for why you have suddenly developed bulging disc symptoms. It best reduced via ice therapy and techniques or exercises that unload the inflamed structures.
Your physiotherapist will use an array of treatment tools. They aim to reduce your pain and inflammation. These treatment modalities may include ice, electrotherapy, acupuncture, unloading taping techniques, soft tissue massage, gentle exercise and temporary use of a back brace. Your doctor may recommend a course of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen.
PHASE II – Bulging Disc Exercises
As your pain and inflammation settle, your physiotherapist will turn their attention to restoring your normal joint alignment and range of motion, muscle length and resting tension, muscle strength and endurance.
Your physiotherapist will commence you on a lower abdominal and core stability program to facilitate your important muscles that dynamically control and stabilise your spine.
Researchers have discovered the importance of your back and abdominal core muscle recruitment patterns. Standard recruitment order of your deeper muscles, then intermediate and finally, superficial muscle firing patterns are typically required to prevent back pain. Your physiotherapist will assess your muscle recruitment pattern and prescribe the best exercises for you, specific to your needs.
Your physiotherapist may recommend a stretching program or a remedial massage to address your tight or shortened muscles. Please ask your physio for their advice.
PHASE III – Restoring Full Function
As your back’s dynamic control improves, your physiotherapist will turn their attention to restoring your normal pelvic and spine alignment and its range of motion during more stressful body positions and postures. They’ll also work on your outer core and leg muscle power.
Depending on your chosen work, sport or activities of daily living, your physiotherapist will aim to restore your function to allow you to return to your desired activities safely. Everyone has different demands for their body that will determine what specific treatment goals you need to achieve. For some, it is merely to walk around the block. Others may wish to run a marathon.
Your physiotherapist will tailor your back rehabilitation to help you achieve your own functional goals.
PHASE IV – Preventing a Recurrence
Back pain does tend to return. The main reason back pain recurs is due to insufficient rehabilitation. In particular, poor compliance with deep abdominal and core muscle exercises. You should continue a version of these exercises routinely a few times per week. Your physiotherapist will assist you in identifying the best activities for you to continue indefinitely.
In addition to your muscle control, your physiotherapist will assess your spine and pelvis biomechanics and correct any defects. It may be as simple as providing you with adjacent muscle exercises or some foot orthotics to address any biomechanical faults in the legs or feet.
General exercise is a vital component to successfully preventing a recurrence. Your physiotherapist may recommend pilates, yoga, swimming, walking, hydrotherapy or a gym program. These modalities all appear to help back pain. Exercise will assist your back pain relief in the long-term.
Bulging Disc Exercises
You physiotherapist will prescribe the best bulging disc exercises. They will consider your disc bulge location, size, neurological symptoms and the acuteness of your symptoms. Please follow their recommendations as they guide you from back pain and back towards your healthy life.
Fine-tuning and maintenance of your back stability and function are best achieved by addressing any deficits and learning self-management techniques. Your physiotherapist will guide you.
Bulging Disc Recovery Time
Unfortunately, bulging disc injuries are usually not a quick fix. Most bulging disc injuries do take several weeks, or even months, to settle.
Bulging discs will also remain weak and vulnerable for at least six weeks, sometimes longer. However, the good news is that most bulging disc injuries will not remain painful for that period. These lingering back sufferers tend to be inadequately managed disc injuries in the early phase.
The best thing you can do for a suspected bulging disc is to seek professional advice. After your assessment, your back physiotherapist or doctor will be able to provide you with what they would anticipate is your bulging disc recovery time.
What Happens if a Bulging Disc Goes Untreated?
Even if you don’t seek professional treatment, nature will naturally attempt to heal your bulging disc. While professional spinal care may fast-track your recovery, most instances of mild bulging discs will heal naturally and may not require treatment. However, patients suffering from a bulging disc commonly seek quicker pain relief. In these instances, please seek out the professional advice of your trusted spinal healthcare practitioner.
When is a Professional Opinion Recommended for Bulging Disc?
1. Loss of Bladder or Bowel Function. There are some bulging disc cases where professional care is essential. In some cases, such as when you lose bowel or bladder control, it is deemed an emergency, and you may require immediate surgery. These bulges usually are very significant and affect your nerve control involving your bladder or bowels. You should go straight to your nearest emergency department in these instances.
2. Weakness in your limb muscles is a significant concern. If you experience arm, hand, leg or foot weakness, please seek prompt medical assessment.
3. The reduced or altered sensation is your next priority. Mild disc bulges can reduce your ability to feel things touching you, e.g. numbness or pins and needles. If you experience any of the above symptoms, you should seek professional assistance.
4. Referred Pain. Pain in your limbs, e.g. legs (sciatica) or arms (brachialgia) is usually a more significant injury that when experiencing only spinal pain. We recommend that you seek the professional advice of your trusted spinal care practitioner.
5. Spinal Pain. Interestingly, if you are only experiencing spinal pain, bulging discs are generally mild injuries and the most likely to rehabilitate quickly. Please adhere to low disc pressure postures and exercise accordingly. If in doubt, please seek professional advice.
Spinal Disc Surgery
Surgery is occasionally required. Surgery is an option when a conservative (non-operative) approach does not settle your leg pain. While surgery is usually a last resort, an exception is emergency decompression. Surgical decompression occurs when severe nerve compression is affecting the function of your bowel or bladder. Or, if you experience significant muscle weakness, e.g. foot slap or drop.
Persisting symptoms over six months may require the attention of a surgeon who specialises in treating back pain and sciatica. Please remember, if you have severe symptoms such as bowel or bladder dysfunction or extreme muscle weakness, you may require emergency surgery. Please head straight to an emergency department.
FAQs about Bulging Disc Injury
Common Lower Back Pain Causes
The following conditions may cause lower back pain.
- Back Cramps
- Back Muscle Pain
- Core Stability Deficiency
- DOMS - Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
- Side Strain
- Back Stress Fracture
- Scheuermann's Disease
- Spinal Stenosis
- Stress Fracture Spine (Cricket Bowlers)
Back Joint Injuries
Nerve PainNerve pain is pain that is caused by damage or disease that affects the nervous system of the body. It is also known as neuropathic pain or neuralgia. Nerve pain is a pain that comes from problems with signals from the nerves. It is different to the common type of pain that is due to an injury. This is known as nociceptive pain.
What Causes Nerve Pain?Neuropathic pain is caused by a problem with your nerves themselves, which sends pain messages to the brain.
What is Nerve Pain Symptoms?Nerve pain is often described as burning, stabbing, shooting, aching, or like an electric shock.
What Causes Nerve Pain?Various conditions can affect your nerves and cause nerve pain. Common sources of nerve pain include:
- Shingles (post-herpetic neuralgia).
- Trigeminal neuralgia.
- Diabetic neuropathy.
- Phantom limb pain following an amputation.
- Multiple sclerosis.
- HIV infection.
- Other nerve disorders.
Nerve Pain & Nociceptive PainYou can suffer both nerve pain and nociceptive pain simultaneously. Both pain types can be caused by the same condition.
Nerve Pain TreatmentNerve pain is less likely than nociceptive pain to be helped by traditional painkillers such as paracetamol, anti-inflammatories and codeine. However, other types of medicines often work well to ease the pain. Nerve pain is often eased by anti-depressant or anti-epileptic medicines. Please ask your doctor for more advice.
Pain LinksPain & Injury
Tens MachineWhat is a TENS Machine?
Pins and Needles - Paraesthesia
What Causes Pins & Needles?
A moderately pinched nerve is the most common cause of "pins and needles". Pins and needles are referred to as "paraesthesia" in the medical community. Did you know that feeling "pins and needles" can be a worse sign than having pain in your arm or leg? The reason is that you can't even feel pain anymore when you significantly squash the nerve.
Even worse than "pins and needles" is "numbness" or "anaesthesia", which is a total lack of sensation. You will experience anaesthesia when there is severe nerve compression. Anaesthesia or numbness that persists for more than a few hours can be a sign of permanent nerve compression. Please seek prompt medical attention to prevent the nerve from permanent damage and the muscles it innervates to weaken drastically.
The majority of pinched nerves and nerve compressions are only transient and quickly reversed with early treatment. However, neglect can lead to permanent nerve compression injuries, which may never recover.
Common Causes of Pinched Nerves
The most common forms of nerve compression are in the spinal joints where either a disc bulge or a bony arthritic spur can irritate and compress the nerve. Compressions can also occur as the nerve passes through or around muscles. Your physiotherapist will know where to look.
How Can You Fix "Pins and Needles"?
If you know of someone who is experiencing chronic or permanent "pins and needles", "numbness" or "muscle weakness", please encourage them to seek urgent professional advice. The secret to quick success is the correct diagnosis. A highly trained health practitioner such as your physiotherapist or doctor is your best port of call.
Youth Spinal Pain
Teenager Neck & Back PainTeenagers can be particularly vulnerable to back pain, mainly due to a combination of high flexibility and low muscle strength and posture control. The competitive athlete and most individuals who exercise regularly or maintain a level of fitness and core stability control are less prone to spine injury and problems due to the strength and flexibility of supporting structures. Your physiotherapist can assist the resolution of any deficits in this area. Luckily, issues involving the lower lumbar spine are rare in athletes and account for less than 10% of sports-related injuries. Injuries do occur in contact sports and with repetitive strain sports. Sports such as gymnastics, cricket fast bowlers, and tennis have a higher incidence of associated lumbar spine problems related to repetitive twisting and hyper-bending motions. Spondylolisthesis is a significant concern and needs to be appropriately treated by a physiotherapist with a particular interest in these type of injuries. Luckily, most injuries are minor, self-limited, and respond quickly to physiotherapy treatment.
Common Adolescent Spinal Injuries
Lower Back (Lumbar Spine)
Midback (Thoracic Spine)
Neck (Cervical Spine)
PelvisCommon Youth & Teenager Sports Injuries Common Youth Leg Injuries Common Youth Arm Injuries
Back Muscle StrainsBack muscle injuries are the most common form of back injury. Muscle fatigue, excessive loads or poor lifting postures are the most common problems. Inefficient back muscles can lead to poor joint stabilisation and subsequent injury. More info: Back Muscle Pain
Ligament SprainsLigaments are the strong fibrous bands that limit the amount of movement available at each spinal level. Stretching ligaments too far or too quickly will tear them with subsequent bleeding into the surrounding tissues, causing swelling and pain. Awkward lifting, sports injuries, and motor vehicle accidents are very common causes. Just as in other regions of the body, physiotherapy hastens ligament healing and relieves pain so that you can enjoy life again as soon as possible. More info: Back Ligament Sprains
Bulging DiscsA bulging disc injury is a common spine injury sustained to your spine's intervertebral disc. Spinal discs are the shock-absorbing rings of fibrocartilage and glycoprotein that separate your bony vertebral bodies while allowing movement at each spinal level, and enough room for the major spinal nerves to exit from the spinal canal and travel to your limbs. The annulus is the outer section of the spinal disc, consisting of several layers of multi-directional fibrocartilaginous fibres all densely packed to create a wall around the glycoprotein filled jelly-like disc nucleus. A disc bulge (commonly referred to as a slipped disc), can potentially press against or irritate the nerve where it exits from the spine. This nerve pinch can cause back pain, spasms, cramping, numbness, pins and needles, or pain in your legs. More info: Bulging Discs
Bone InjuriesYou can also fracture your spine if the force involved is highly traumatic or you have a low bone density (e.g. osteoporosis). More info: Osteoporosis
Poor PosturePoor posture when sitting, standing or lifting at work can place unnecessary stress on your spine. Muscles fatigue, ligaments overstretch, discs stretch and this places spinal joints and nerves under pain-causing pressure. More info: Poor Posture
What Can Cause Severe Low Back Pain?A sudden injury most often causes acute low back pain. The most common injury sources are the muscles and ligaments supporting the back. The pain may be caused by muscle spasms or a strain or tear in the muscles and ligaments. But occasionally, it can have a more sinister cause.
Warning Signs of a More Serious Back Injury?In these instances of neurological deficit, please urgently consult your nearest hospital, doctor or physiotherapist. The following neurological signs warrant prompt assessment:
- pins and needles (paraesthesia),
- numbness (anaesthesia),
- leg muscle weakness,
- altered reflexes,
- difficulty walking,
- loss of control of bladder or bowels.
Non-Musculoskeletal Causes of Low Back PainAlthough most low back pain is musculoskeletal in origin, other health conditions can cause low back pain.
What Causes Lower Back Pain?Researchers and spinal health care practitioners categorise lower back bain into the following categories: 1. Specific Spinal Pathologies (<1%) 2. Radicular Syndromes (5-10%)
- Radicular pain, e.g. sciatica
- Spinal Stenosis
Specific Spinal PathologiesSome conditions that cause back pain do require an urgent and specific referral and treatment. These conditions include:
- spinal infections
- cancer (malignancy)
- spinal arthropathies (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis)
- cauda equina syndrome
- spinal fractures.
Radicular SyndromesLower back pain can result from structural damage that can irritate or pinch a nerve. Researchers believe that radicular syndrome causes 5-10% of the presentations of back pain to general practitioners.
Radicular pain (e.g. sciatica)The most common pinched nerve in the lower back is your sciatic nerve. You may be diagnosed with sciatica if you are suffering radicular pain down your leg due to a back injury. While the sciatic nerve is the most common nerve that can be affected by a spinal injury, you can modify any spinal nerve function (e.g. femoral nerve). The following back injuries may cause radicular pain:
- Herniated disc (slipped disc)
- Facet joint sprain
- Degenerative disc disease
- Back ligament sprain.
RadiculopathyLumbar radiculopathy can result in functionally disabling conditions such as foot drop, foot slap or eversion muscle weakness that can affect your ability to walk.
Spinal StenosisSpinal stenosis is a slightly different condition and relates to the narrowing of the spinal canal. Spinal stenosis is usually more prevalent as you age.
Non-Specific Lower Back Pain (NSLBP)Non-Specific Lower Back Pain (NSLBP) is the diagnostic term used to classify sufferers of lower back pain with no specific structure injured. It is a diagnosis of exclusion. In other words, your spinal health care practitioner has excluded specific spinal pathologies and any of the radicular syndromes mentioned above as the cause of your back pain or symptoms. Fortunately, these conditions account for approximately 90-95% of lower back pain and can nearly always successfully rehabilitate without the need for surgery. Most improve within two to six weeks. They can be fast-tracked with pain relief and physiotherapy techniques such as manual therapy and back exercises.
NSLBP CausesThe causes of NSLBP are numerous but roughly fall into either a sudden (traumatic) or sustained overstress injuries. Most people can relate to traumatic injury such as bending awkwardly to lift a heavy load that tears or damages structures. However, sustained overstress injuries (e.g. poor posture) are probably more common but also more straightforward to prevent. In these cases, positional stress or postural fatigue creates an accumulated microtrauma that overloads your lower back structures over an extended period to cause injury and back pain. Most commonly, NSLBP causes include back muscle strain or back ligament sprain. Other chronic back conditions such as degenerative disc disease may underly your acute disc health and predispose you to the severe pain. The good news is that you can take measures to prevent or lessen most back pain episodes. Early diagnosis and specific individualised treatment is the easiest way to recover quickly from lower back pain and to prevent a recurrence.
What is Back Muscle Pain?Back muscle pain or its aliases: pulled back muscle, back muscle spasm, torn back muscle or back muscle strain, is very common. Back muscle pain is the most common source of back pain. The good news is that it is also one of the quickest to heal and rehabilitate.
What Causes Back Muscle Pain?Most causes of low back pain are muscle, ligament or joint-related. Commonly, these muscular strains, ligament sprains and joint dysfunction arises suddenly during or following physical loading of your spine. Muscle fatigue, excessive loads, high speeds or poor lifting postures are the most common causes. The causes of pure back pain are numerous but roughly fall into the following categories.
Back Muscle StrainsMuscle pain is the most common source of back pain. Muscle fatigue, excessive loads or poor lifting or sitting postures are the most common problems. Inefficient, weak, or back muscles that lack endurance or normal contraction timing can lead to reduced joint stabilisation and subsequent injury to your back muscles, ligaments, joints or even spinal discs.
Poor PosturePoor posture, when sitting, standing and lifting at work, can place unnecessary stress upon your spine. With muscle fatigue or overstretching, your ligaments and discs can stretch, and this puts spinal joint muscles and nerves under pain-causing pressure or strain, that results in back pain.
Ligament SprainsLigaments are the durable, fibrous bands that limit the amount of movement available at each spinal level. Stretching ligaments too far or too quickly will tear them with subsequent bleeding into the surrounding tissues, causing swelling, muscular spasm and pain. Awkward lifting, sports injuries and motor vehicle accidents are prevalent causes. Just as in other regions of the body, physiotherapy hastens ligament healing and relieves pain so that you can enjoy life again as soon as possible.
What are the Symptoms of Back Muscle Pain?Back muscle pain symptoms may range from a mild ache to sudden debilitating back pain. Typical back muscle pain symptoms include:
- Localised back pain, with no radiation into your buttock or leg.
- Back muscle tenderness and spasm.
- Protective back stiffness.
- Sudden back pain onset.
How is Back Muscle Pain Diagnosed?Differentiating a back muscle strain from a ligament sprain can be difficult, as both injuries will show similar symptoms. In general, it doesn't significantly matter what you call the problem because the treatment and prognosis for both back muscular strains and ligament sprains are similar. Most spinal practitioners refer to both injuries as a category called a "Back Strain" or "Musculoligamentous Strain". X-rays and CT scans do not identify muscle or ligament injury. MRI scan is probably the best diagnostic test to determine the muscle or ligament structures injured.
What is Back Muscle Pain Treatment?
Seek a Professional Diagnosis!A spinal healthcare practitioner, such as your physiotherapist, should thoroughly; examine you to exclude more severe sources of back pain. Numerous injuries can cause back pain, and the treatment does vary significantly depending on your diagnosis. Physiotherapy treatment aims to protect your damaged tissue while hastening your muscle and ligament healing and then look at strategies to prevent a recurrence. Your physiotherapist has some nifty tricks for quickly relieving your back pain so that you can enjoy life again as soon as possible.
Back Strain CausesWe do know that some people are vulnerable to repeated lower back sprains and strains. While it is easier to understand that lifting a heavy load in an awkward position can cause back pain, it's harder to comprehend how a simple movement can hurt your back. Yes, it can happen by merely leaning forwards to pick up your teacup or when bending to brush your teeth! The reason is poor local joint control. The main reason for this is inadequate or non-existent muscle activation of the deep core stability muscles. These muscles are small but are right next to the joint to control excessive slides and glides. When they don't work correctly, the joint can slide too far and strain its supporting ligaments. Ouch! That hurts. The good news is poor core stability can be easily corrected to prevent back pain. Please contact your physio for more information or to have your core activation accurately assessed. High-risk factors of back pain include:
- sudden forceful movement
- lifting a heavy object
- twisting the back
- coughing or sneezing
- prolonged sitting with poor posture
What is Physiotherapy Treatment?
Physiotherapists help people affected by illness, injury or disability through exercise, manual joint therapy, soft tissue techniques education and advice. Physiotherapists maintain physical health, help patients to manage pain and prevent disease for people of all ages. Physiotherapists help to encourage pain-relief, injury recovery, enabling people to stay playing a sport, working or performing activities of daily living while assisting them to remain functionally independent.
There is a multitude of different physiotherapy treatment approaches.
Acute & Sub-Acute Injury Management
Hands-On Physiotherapy Techniques
Your physiotherapist's training includes hands-on physiotherapy techniques such as:
- Joint Mobilisation (gentle joint gliding techniques)
- Joint Manipulation
- Physiotherapy Instrument Mobilisation (PIM)
- Minimal Energy Techniques (METs)
- Soft Tissue Techniques
Your physiotherapist has skilled training. Physiotherapy techniques have expanded over the past few decades. They have researched, upskilled and educated themselves in a spectrum of allied health skills. These skills include techniques shared with other healthcare practitioners. Professions include exercise physiologists, remedial massage therapists, osteopaths, acupuncturists, kinesiologists, chiropractors and occupational therapists, just to name a few.
Your physiotherapist is a highly skilled professional who utilises strapping and taping techniques to prevent and assist injuries or pain relief and function.
Alternatively, your physiotherapist may recommend a supportive brace.
Acupuncture and Dry Needling
Many physiotherapists have acquired additional training in the field of acupuncture and dry needling to assist pain relief and muscle function.
Physiotherapists have been trained in the use of exercise therapy to strengthen your muscles and improve your function. Physiotherapy exercises use evidence-based protocols where possible as an effective way that you can solve or prevent pain and injury. Your physiotherapist is highly-skilled in the prescription of the "best exercises" for you and the most appropriate "exercise dose" for you depending on your rehabilitation status. Your physiotherapist will incorporate essential components of pilates, yoga and exercise physiology to provide you with the best result. They may even use Real-Time Ultrasound Physiotherapy so that you can watch your muscles contract on a screen as you correctly retrain them.
- Muscle Stretching
- Core Exercises
- Strengthening Exercises
- Balance Exercises
- Proprioception Exercises
- Real-Time Ultrasound Physiotherapy
- Swiss Ball Exercises
Biomechanical assessment, observation and diagnostic skills are paramount to the best treatment. Your physiotherapist is a highly skilled health professional. They possess superb diagnostic skills to detect and ultimately avoid musculoskeletal and sports injuries. Poor technique or posture is one of the most common sources of a repeat injury.
Aquatic water exercises are an effective method to provide low bodyweight exercises.
Sports physio requires an extra level of knowledge and physiotherapy skill to assist injury recovery, prevent injury and improve performance. For the best advice, consult a Sports Physiotherapist.
Women's Health Physiotherapy is a particular interest group of therapies.
Not only can your physiotherapist assist you in sport, but they can also help you at work. Ergonomics looks at the best postures and workstation set up for your body at work or home. Whether it be lifting technique improvement, education programs or workstation setups, your physiotherapist can help you.
Plus Much More
Your physiotherapist is a highly skilled body mechanic. A physiotherapist has particular interests in certain injuries or specific conditions. For advice regarding your individual problem, please contact your PhysioWorks team.
What is Therapeutic Ultrasound?Therapeutic ultrasound is an electrotherapy modality which has been used by physiotherapists since the 1940s. Via an ultrasound probe through a transmission coupling gel in direct contact with your skin, ultrasound waves are applied. Therapeutic ultrasound may increase:
- healing rates
- tissue heating
- local blood flow
- tissue relaxation
- scar tissue breakdown.
How Could Ultrasound Help?Ultrasound increases local blood flow. This increase may help to reduce local swelling and promote soft tissue healing rates. A higher power density may soften scar tissue.
Specific Ultrasound UsesMastitis or blocked milk ducts successfully respond to therapeutic ultrasound. The effect is quite dramatic, with improvement within 24 to 72 hours. The most common conditions treated with ultrasound include soft tissue injuries such as muscle, ligament injuries or some tendinopathies. Phonophoresis uses ultrasound in a non-invasive way of administering medications to tissues below the skin. This method may assist patients who are uncomfortable with injections. With phonophoresis, the ultrasonic energy forces the drug through the skin.
What is an Ultrasound Dose?A typical ultrasound treatment will take from 3-10 minutes. Where scar tissue breakdown is the goal, this treatment time could be much longer. During the procedure, the head of the ultrasound probe is in constant motion. If kept in continuous motion, the patient should feel no discomfort at all. Some conditions treated with ultrasound include soft tissues injuries such as muscles or ligament injuries, tendinopathy, non-acute joint swelling and muscle spasm.
How Does an Ultrasound Work?A piezoelectric effect, caused by the vibration of crystals within the ultrasound head of the probe creates the sound waves. The ultrasound waves generated then pass through the skin cause a vibration of the local soft tissues. This repeated cavitation can cause a deep heating locally though usually no sensation of heat will be felt by the patient. In situations where a heating effect is not desirable, an athermal application occurs. Athermal doses are typical during acute fresh injury and the associated acute inflammation.
When Should Ultrasound be Avoided?Contraindications of ultrasound include:
- local malignancy,
- over metal implants,
- local acute infection,
- vascular abnormalities,
- active epiphyseal regions (growth plates) in children,
- over the spinal cord in the area of a laminectomy,
- over the eyes, skull, or testes
- and, directly on the abdomen of pregnant women. Treatment ultrasound differs from diagnostic ultrasound!
Lower Back Pain Treatment Guidelines?While lower back pain treatment will vary depending on your specific diagnosis, your physiotherapist will have the following aims.
PHASE I - Back Pain Relief & ProtectionManaging your back pain is the main reason that you seek treatment for lower back pain. In truth, it was the final symptom that you developed and should be the first symptom to improve. Your physiotherapist will use an array of treatment tools to reduce your pain and inflammation. These include ice, electrotherapy, acupuncture, de-loading taping techniques, soft tissue massage. A course of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen may also help in this phase.
PHASE II - Restoring Normal ROM and Strength. Early Back Exercises.As your lower back pain and inflammation settles, your lower back pain may feel better. Still, you are more vulnerable to re-injury during this honeymoon period when you don't have pain, but your muscles and ligaments are weak. During this phase, your physiotherapist will turn their attention to restoring your normal lumbar spine motion. Plus they'll assess your muscle length and resting tension, muscle strength and endurance, proprioception, balance and gait (walking pattern). Your physiotherapist may commence you on a lower abdominal core stability program to facilitate your important muscles that dynamically control and stabilise your lower back and pelvis. Your physiotherapist will assess your muscle recruitment pattern and prescribe the best back exercises for your specific needs.
PHASE III - Restoring Full FunctionDepending on your chosen work, sport or activities, your physiotherapist will aim to restore your back's function to allow you to return to your desired activities safely. Everyone has different demands for their lower back that will determine what specific treatment goals you need to achieve. For some, it is merely to walk around the block. Others may wish to run a marathon or be a fast bowler. Your physiotherapist will tailor your back pain rehabilitation to help you achieve your own functional goals.
PHASE IV - Back Exercises - Preventing a RecurrenceRecurrence of lower back pain can occur. The main reason for a recurrence is due to insufficient rehabilitation. In particular, poor compliance with deep abdominal core muscle exercises. You should continue a version of these back exercises routinely a few times per week. Your physiotherapist will assist you in identifying the best activities for you to continue indefinitely.
Suffering Back Pain. What Should You Do?While lower back pain is commonplace, the diagnosis of the cause of your back pain is specific to you, and therefore, the treatment or investigation pathway varies for each case. A spinal health care professional can assist you with a prompt diagnosis, early referral, acute and chronic back pain relief, plus long-term self-management or back pain prevention strategies specific to you. You should feel confident that your practitioner has screened you particular pathologies that require urgent medical attention. They should assess you for neurological deficits such as:
- loss of bowel or bladder function,
- leg muscle weakness,
- loss of sensation,
- diminished reflexes,
- and, day-to-day function.
What Should You Do When You Suffer Back Pain?
Rest?The latest research recommends that you only spend a day or two resting in bed. More extended periods cause muscle weakness which ultimately makes repeat back pain more likely.
Ice or Heat?We recommend ice treatment for 20 minutes every 2 or 3 hours for the first 48 hours. The ice should help reduce your pain, swelling and back spasms. After a few days, you are safe to use heat packs. We usually recommend avoiding heat (and heat rubs) in the first 48 hours. Heat packs encourage bleeding, which could be detrimental if used too early.
Should You Use a Back Brace?A back brace can help you to get back on your feet or allow you to return to work sooner. We don't encourage long-term use because research has shown that your stomach and back muscles will weaken as you become reliant on the brace.
What Medication Should You Use?Your Doctor or Pharmacist may recommend pain relief in the form of paracetamol or an anti-inflammatory. You are best seeking their advice as certain drugs can interfere with other health conditions.
When Should You Commence Physio?In severe cases, when the slightest movement causes unbelievable pain or spasm, it may be best to wait a day or two to start treatment. This delay will allow the majority of swelling to settle. Slight niggles or "my back feels out" sufferers can usually commence treatment (and maybe fixed) on the day of injury. If you are not sure what to do, please call us for advice. We'll happily guide you in your time of need.
What About Core Stability Training?The current trend in physiotherapy and fitness training is 'core stability training' (back and abdominal muscle control).
What If You Do Nothing?Research tells us that symptoms lasting longer than three months become habitual and are much harder to solve. The sooner you get on top of your symptoms, the better your outcome and the quicker you'll get back to living your life."Back pain is something you could be suffering needlessly".
What Results Should You Expect from Physiotherapy?Not only will your physio diagnose the cause of your pain and give you the "peace of mind" associated, but they'll also help you to:
- Relieve your pain quicker
- Cope better with your pain using proven strategies and tips
- Get you back to work and play quicker through faster healing rates
- Loosen and strengthen your back with individually prescribed exercises
- Prevent future bouts of back pain via our holistic back pain management approach
Core ExercisesWhile all back exercises that strengthen the muscles that traverse your back are essential, back pain researchers have emphasised retraining your deep core muscles as a priority. "Core Stability" is your body's ability to control and support your spine via specific muscles dynamically. Your spine is an inherently unstable area of your body. Your lower back has five vertebrae that allow twisting, bending and arching with no other bones to assist. They sit on top of a triangular bone called the sacrum, which wedges itself into the pelvis. Unfortunately, without strong support, all of these bones would fall in a heap on the ground. Your deep core muscles are the main structures that support, control and move your lower spine and pelvis. They are also the most energy-efficient and best-positioned muscles to do the job for 24 hours a day. However, when they turn off, your spine is not fully supported by its usual muscular corset. This lack of support makes it quite vulnerable to injury and chronic pain. Research has shown that our back pain causes your "deep core stability" muscles to STOP working in EVERY case. The first time you experience low back pain, your brain automatically inhibits the regular activity of the Transversus Abdominis (TA) muscle. This inhibition occurs in 100% of sufferers. Unfortunately, even once the back pain has eased the TA muscle does not automatically switch on again. Inhibition of the TA muscle exposes your spine to further trauma and hence "recurrent back pain". Each incident becomes a little more severe, and consequently, further wasting of the TA occurs. Other causes of muscle inhibition include previous abdominal surgery, pelvic pain and post-pregnancy.
What are the Benefits of Core Stability Training?Researchers have shown that the correct use of your core stability muscles not only prevents pain but also alleviates pain if you're already suffering. Also, your body's strength, power, endurance and performance will improve. You'll be able to run faster, jump higher and even throw further when these muscles work correctly. For more information, please contact your physiotherapist.
Core Stability MusclesThe deep core stability muscles of the lower spine include:
- Transversus Abdominis (TA)
- Multifidus (MF)
- Pelvic Floor (PF)