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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: 9471

The pain felt from a bulging disc is immense, and anyone who has experienced this will tell you exactly how scary it can be, especially if it left 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 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 are 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 following a long drive. Now as much as they are felt differently, they were both caused poor repetitive movement. There are two key movement patterns that are behind this problem, BENDING and ROTATION. We will explain in detail how this works and provide several examples of activities that you will need to be aware of.

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. As much as removing pain is important, there is no point to leaving the cause of the pain unchecked. 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 the most common cause of bulging discs. The second place to look is within a rotational movement. Repeatedly rotating your spine instead of using your hips and thoracic spine will "tear the disc". Rotational movement has been given a bad name over the years for the damage it can cause. The problem however is not with rotation itself for if that was true we would never see any professional golfers or tennis players as they all would have torn discs. The problem is more to do with 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 this movement is used in many of our daily tasks.

Poor bending actions are where we see someone constantly flexing their spine instead of using their hips. 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 and maintain a neutral lumbar curve. Problems arise when you use your spine to do the bending.

Things that contribute to your pain and can very quickly worsen your condition are the daily movements we think nothing of. Look at the pictures below and see how many times the lumbar spine moves into flexion with simple daily tasks where bending over is required. Every one of these movements is in the process of ruining your discs. If you do not change this movement you are guaranteed to compromise your strength and stability in areas being weakened by these movements and it is now a matter of time until you end up with a bulging disc.

Tying Your Shoelaces

The picture on the left demonstrates spinal flexion and poor bending action. The picture to the right shows how to do the same activity but save the discs from damage by adopting 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 the good technique of firstly better leverage and use the hips. We will provide more exercises of how to learn this later.

Vacuuming

This time the good technique is on the left and poor technique is on the right. Again with poor technique you see the knees locked out and all the bending performed by the spine. In addition to this is the lengthened lever by having the handle too far away from his body. Longer levers create massive stress to the spine. No wonder vacuuming is so hard for people with back pain. With the good technique we can see that he keeps the handle close to his body to reduce the lever on his spine and also uses his hips more effectively to bend over.

Now there are a many 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 that undo all their hard work.

With stretching, I find there are two types of people. Those who hate it and never find the time. And those who love it and tend to overdo it. The people who hate it often need it the most whereas the people already using it will find more benefit using stability and strength movements instead. It is all about finding the right balance. Firstly when it comes to stretching you MUST NEVER DO THE FOLLOWING 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. These are tightening the sciatic nerve and stretching the lower back due to the knees being locked out. What appears as tight hamstrings is typically a result of poor hip mobility. Stretching and applying more tension to a nerve is never a good idea and will only serve to cause more pain. The yoga pose on the left while it looks impressive is placing enormous stress on the discs if you repeatedly use this movement. Some people may be fine with this if they have great stability and strength, but if you are someone who has suffered from a disc bulge before this is not a wise idea.

A great article to read for more detailed stretches and mobility drills is here Mobility & Flexibility Which Comes First & Why

If you have sciatica then nerve flossing is a much better way to free up the nerve. See the video below for explanation of how to do this. And if you do in fact need to stretch your hamstrings then watch the video to the right to how to do this correctly.

Another activity to be careful of is 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 seen. Even though this is an elite cyclist on a time trial bike and he has pretty good mechanics, you can still see some spinal flexion that can easily aggravate a back if done for long periods of time. Many recreational cyclists are nowhere near this excellent position and move further into flexion. Again many people can do cycling their whole life and have no trouble with their back 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. It is easy to modify your riding position with a good cycling coach, or even changing bikes that can make a big difference.

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 weakens your abs and teaches your body to use the hips. Ironically the exercise you thought was making you stronger in your abdominal muscles is now making you weaker and more prone to injury.

What Should You Do?

There are many things you will need to begin doing, and there are many factors you will need to consider. A thorough assessment of your posture and movement is critical and will reveal many of the underlying causes of your pain. Based on the results of this assessment you can 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 this assessment process and provides a step by step program to help guide you on implementing the corrective exercises. Click the image below to see more and get your copy.

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 are 2 videos to watch that show you firstly how to do this, and secondly how you can use tape on your back to trick your brain 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 or picking up a pen.

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 become stiff very easily and they can be difficult to stretch. Over the last 14 years I have found stretching with back pain sufferers to be not nearly as effective as hip mobilizing drills that mimic movements. Below is two videos of examples of hip mobility drills we might use.

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 muscles 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 usually weak and lazy leaving the spine exposed to trauma. Using simple exercises to teach your body how to use these muscles again is a very important step in your development. Do not underestimate the power of these simple drills as it is the weakness from simple things like this that easily led to breaking you in the first place.

Make Sure You Get Our FREE Cheat Sheet

Want to follow along and keep the important tips on one sheet nearby? You can download our Free Cheat Sheet below by clicking the image below.

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 to 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.