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Bulging Disc Treatment - It All Starts With How You Move

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 06 October 2017
Hits: 8806

The pain felt from a bulging disc or herniated disc as it is also known, is immense, and anyone who has experienced will tell you how scary it can be, especially if it leaves them temporarily paralyzed! They will also tell you that they would do anything to never have this happen again. But what tends to happen is we seek treatment, the pain subsides and things start to go back to normal. We tend to blame the injury on the movement we were doing at the time or what we did just prior to the back going. Eg Lifting a box, gardening etc. But really the cause of these injuries is very rarely from one incident. The true cause of these injuries is from moving poorly repetitively. Common daily activities we think nothing of, are where the injury is formed. Many of us may be able to go through life getting away with some bad movement if it is countered enough with good movement. However the person who does not build reserves and just keeps stealing from their body, will pay the price. The very first thing you should do with your treatment for a bulging disc is to identify your poor movement and eliminate it or change it. If you ignore this, you are likely to suffer repeated episodes that get worse each time. This article I am going to share with you some valuable information on how to do this.

What Is A Bulging Disc?

Make sure you watch the video above as this really demonstrates in great detail some of the simple everyday movements we all take for granted that create back pain, and in particular bulging discs. I cannot overstate how important this information is to know in getting to the root cause of your problems and making your treatment successful. When you understand what a bulging disc is, you can put the pieces together of how you managed to do this. Here is how it works.

The lumbar spine comprises of many bones known as vertebrae, each of which is separated by a disc. The disc comprises of many layers of strong connective tissue wrapping around the disc. In the middle of the disc lies a soft jelly-like substance which is capable of changing shape. When this jelly-like substance protrudes from the disc due to a tear in several layers of the connective tissue, this is known as a lumbar disc bulge.

There is two ways this is felt. The first is an immediate "stabbing" pain after picking something up like a box off the floor, and the second is a gradual "build up" of pain. For example after sitting in the car after a long drive. Now as much as they are felt differently, they were both caused by same thing. Poor repetitive movement. There is two key movement patterns that will do this, BENDING and ROTATION. We will explain in detail what to look for and provide examples of activities to be aware of.

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Identify Your Pain Trigger Which Is Poor Movement

Success with any rehabilitation program requires removing the cause. If you fail to do this, you will just end up where you started. It still blows my mind how little this is discussed with patients when they see a Doctor, Physio or health therapist. They are so concerned with removing the pain they forget to educate the client how to move. As much as removing pain is important, there is no point to leaving the trigger waiting to be pulled again. Leading back pain researcher Stuart McGill refers to this as "picking the scab". Where do you look for your cause?

The first thing to look for is POOR BENDING MOVEMENTS which is also the most common cause of bulging discs. The second is rotational movement. Repeatedly rotating your spine instead of using your hips and thoracic spine will "tear the disc". This is often taken out of context and people are told "never do rotation exercises", which is absolute rubbish and said by someone who does not understand how the human body moves. Again if that was true we would never see any professional golfers or tennis players, and they all would have torn discs. The problem is HOW YOU ROTATE. You can read more about this specific subject by reading our article "Is Twisting & Rotational Exercise Bad For Your Back?" If you are a keen golfer or tennis player and have a had a torn disc it may be a good idea to seek some advice from a coach to evaluate your technique before going back to playing.

Let's take a look at the poor bending actions first as these are where many of the more simple tasks are found.

This is where we see someone constantly flexing their spine. Sometimes occupations requiring constant bending contribute to this problem, but it is not the occupation, it is how you bend that is the problem. If it was the occupation then 100% of the people in this job would have a bulging disc. There is no problem with bending if you use your hips. If you use your spine to do the bending, well......... you are going to be in trouble.

Other things that contribute to your pain and can very quickly all add up are daily movements. Look at the pictures below and see how many times the lumbar spine is going into flexion with simple tasks. Everyone of these movements is in the process of ruining your discs. If you do not change you how you move, and also improve your strength and stability in areas being weakened by these movements, you are guaranteed to get a bulging disc at some point.

Tying Your Shoelaces

The picture on the left demonstrates spinal flexion and poor bending action. The picture to the right saves the discs, and adopts a neutral spinal position.

Picking Up A Bag Off The Floor

Again the picture on the left is the poor bending action that will ruin your back. There is no use of the hips, with the legs locked out straight and all the bending done at the spine. The picture on the right demonstrates good form of firstly better leverage, and secondly using the hips. More on how to do this later.

Vacuuming

This time the good form is on the left and poor form is on the right. Again you see the legs locked out on poor form and all the bending performed by the spine. Add on top of that the added lever by having the handle too far away and the fact he will rotate like this too. No wonder vacuuming is so hard for people with back pain. With the good form however we see he keeps the handle close to reduce the lever, and uses his hips to bend over and not the spine.

Now there is a ton more everyday movements we could include but I think you get the point. Use your hips and not your spine.

What About Stretching & Exercise?

Now this part really frustrates me. I have seen many clients where we help them through all of the phases of rehabilitation, the learn how to bend correctly, even with loads. Everything appears to be going okay and then a setback, bang, they are in pain again. The first thing they blame is the exercises but after questioning them about what things they have been doing the real answer is found. Poor stretching habits, Yoga, stupid abdominal exercises and cycling have crept back into their routine and undone all the hard work.

With stretching I find there are two types of people. Those who hate it and never find the time. They are the ones that really need it. And on the flip side there are those who over do it, and are constantly trying to loosen themselves. These people need to stop stretching so much and use stability and strength movements instead. Firstly when it comes to stretching you MUST NEVER DO THESE STRETCHES IF YOU HAVE A BULGING DISC!

The 3 stretches above are all used by people to stretch what they believe is tight hamstrings. Firstly these are not even true hamstring stretches anyway, they are really cranking up the sciatic nerve and stretching their lower back instead. And what appears as tight hamstrings is more often poor hip mobility. So they are in fact making things much worse. The Yoga pose on the left while it looks impressive is placing enormous stress on the discs if you repeatedly do this. Some people may do fine with this if they have great stability and strength, but if you are someone who has suffered with a disc bulge before, this is not you! So don't do it.

Great article to read for detailed stretches and mobility drills is Mobility & Flexibility Which Comes First & Why

If you have Sciatica then nerve flossing is a much better way to free up the nerve. See video below. And if you do in fact need to stretch your hamstrings then watch the video below to see how.

Be careful of Cycling.Take a look at the picture of the cycling position below.

It looks very similar to all of the damaging movements we have just looked at. Even though this is an elite cyclist on a time trial bike, and he has actually pretty good mechanics, this gives you an idea of what happens to the spine for long periods of time. Many recreational cyclists are nowhere near this position, and are even more flexed. Again many people can do this their whole life and have no trouble as they have enough reserve from not beating their back up in other areas. I myself cycle all the time and have never had a bulging disc. But the more you beat up your back with poor movement doing things we have looked at already the closer you are getting to a disc problem. You can modify your riding position with a good cycling coach, or even changing bikes.

Avoid sit ups and crunches. Again look at the position of the spine in the picture below. Someone holding your feet like seen in the picture actually tightens up your hips and weakens your abs making you weaker and more prone to injury.

What Should You Do?

We have spent so much time telling you don't do this, don't do that, what things should you be doing? Obviously there is a stack of things you will need to begin doing, and there is many factors to consider as we are all unique. A thorough assessment of your posture and movement will reveal many of the underlying causes to your pain. And then based on the results of this you would need to implement a corrective exercise program that focuses on rebuilding movements, stability and strength.

We have a great program called Back Pain Secrets you can download with 90 minutes of video and a PDF report that takes you through all of the steps. Click here to see more or on the image below.

I also suggest reading our article Bulging Disc Exercises & Effective Long Term Treatment Strategies for more detail on specific exercises.

But let's give you 3 big things that are easy to implement right now and you don't need to go to a gym to do it.

Learn To Bend Correctly

We have spoken at great length on the importance of learning to use your hips to hinge, and not bend your spine. For some people this is very confusing and takes a bit of coaching to make it automatic. In the gym world this is known as the deadlift and it is a critical exercise for developing strength for lifting objects safely and being able to bend correctly. Below is 2 videos to watch that show you firstly how to do this, and secondly how you can use tape on your back to trick you into doing this right every time. I have used the tape with many clients before and it works really fast in changing simple movements like tying your shoes, picking up a pen etc.

Mobilize Tight Hips & Thoracic Spine

Sometimes you just cannot get in the right position. You know what you need to do but you are just too stiff to do it. The two known areas of stiffness to affect the lower back are the hips and the thoracic spine. Both of these joints becomes stiff very easily and they can be difficult to stretch. I have found stretching with back pain sufferers to be not as effective and hip mobilizing drills that create movement to be more effective. Below is 2 videos of how you could do this.

Activate & Strengthen Your Inner Unit Stability Muscles

These muscles are known to many as the core. Unfortunately many people have no idea how to correctly activate yet alone strengthen these muscles. These guys are very important to providing stability to the lumbar spine and preventing it from flexing and losing it's stability when we move. With back pain sufferers these muscles are common to be weak, lazy and either not fire in time, if at all leaving the spine exposed to trauma. Using simple exercises to teach your body how to use these muscles again is very important. Do not under estimate the power of simple drills. Remember it is simple things that easily led to breaking you.

Conclusion

I hope this article helps to shed some light on how your injury is formed. And more importantly what you can, and MUST do to ensure it goes away and never comes back. If you are doubting the fact that simple strategies can work for you then make sure you check out our testimonials page with stacks of case studies of clients who have been able to get out of pain for good. Always remember use your hips and not your spine. The more you can keep your back in neutral the better.

If you live in Melbourne you can request a free postural and movement assessment by filling in the form below.