Herniated Disc- Definition and Symptoms

A herniated disc is a condition in which the tough outer wall of an intervertebral disc (a soft cushion that sits between each vertabrae of the spine) has been weakened. The herniation causes the cushion that sits between the vertebra to be pushed outside its normal position.

A herniated disc commonly occurs in the low back and sometimes in the neck. Very seldom do they occur in the mid-back due to the extra stability provided by the rib cage. In some cases, a herniated disc will press against the spinal nerves, causing pain, numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness.

Pain
Pressure on the nerve can cause abnormal sensations, commonly experienced as electric shock pains. Compression in the neck region causes pain down your arms and compression in the low back region causes pain down your legs.

Tingling & Numbness
You might experience sensations such as tingling, numbness, or pins and needles. These symptoms may be experienced in the same region as painful sensations.

Muscle Weakness
Because of the nerve irritation, signals from the brain may be interrupted causing muscle weakness. Nerve irritation can also be tested by examining reflexes or having your doctor perform an EMG test. An EMG test is a technique for evaluating and recording the electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles.

Bowel or Bladder Problems
These symptoms are important because it may be a sign of Cauda Equina syndrome, a possible condition resulting from a herniated disc. This is a medical emergency! See your doctor immediately if you have problems urinating, having bowel movements, or if you have numbness around your genitals.

If you experience any of these symptoms listed above, contact your physician or physical therapist to determine the appropriate course of treatment.

Avoiding Back Pain While Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner

Cooking for long periods of time can take a toll on your back. Here are some tips you can use to safely prepare your Thanksgiving meal without developing back pain.

When lifting the turkey, hold the pan close to your body as you take it to the oven. Bend at your knees, not at your lower back, as you lower it onto the oven rack. When taking the turkey out, bend at your knees and pull the rack out keeping your back straight while lifting the turkey out. Keep the turkey close to you. Pivot your feet without twisting your back, to bring the turkey to the counter top.

While peeling potatoes or slicing vegetables, you can prevent your back from hurting by either sitting down or by opening a lower cabinet door and setting one foot on the shelf. This takes weight off the back and prevents you from leaning forward as you work at the counter.

When you are cleaning up after your meal and putting things into the dishwasher, limit bending forward. Kneel down and have someone hand you the dirty dishes, or bend at the knees and keep your back straight while lowering plates to the bottom rack.

Can stress lead to pain?

Are you wondering if your back or neck pain can be related to stress? Many times stress alone can cause pain and if your spinal nerves are already irritated due to a previous injury, degenerative changes or scar tissue, it may only take a little extra muscle tension to increase your pain.

Stress creates muscle tension. This can cause compression to the nerves that run through your muscles. The compression of the nerves can result in symptoms such as aching, numbness, tingling, and sharp pains. Muscle tension reduces blood flow through the tissues robbing them of nutrients and oxygen. Sciatica is one of the most common problems that can be worsened with stress.

Try to manage your stress with techniques such as meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, massage therapy, walking or warm baths. Also, see your physical therapist as soon as your symptoms worsen. Physical Therapy will provide you with exercises and manual techniques to reduce muscle tension.

Back Pain and Physical Therapy

An episode of back pain can last anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks. Seeing a physical therapist can decrease your healing time and prevent further injury.

Typical treatment will consist of heat or cold packs, electrical stimulation, ultrasound, massage, stretching, postural education, and lumbar stabilization exercises.

Stretching exercises are performed to restore your flexibility and motion. Strengthening exercises are performed to increase the muscular support of your spine to prevent further injury.

Tips to Prevent A Back Injury While Gardening

As spring and summer are approaching, we begin to get back to our gardening.  While gardening, many people develop back injuries due to improper body mechanics. Therefore, listed below are tips to decrease the likelihood of a back injury this gardening season.

  1. Before gardening, take a 10 minute walk or warm up with some light exercises to warm up your muscles.
  2. While shoveling, remember to bend at your knees and hips, not at your waist.
  3. When you empty a shovel full of mulch or dirt, make sure you pivot your feet while turning your upper body.
  4. Sit or kneel on a small stool or bucket while weeding and planting so you are not bending over. Use knee pads to kneel to avoid pressure on your knees.
  5. Switch jobs every 30 minutes and take a break every 15 minutes.
  6. Working on raised beds is less strenuous for your back because you are not bending over as much.
  7. Use a cart or wheelbarrow to move things.
  8. Use lightweight hoses for watering.
  9. Keeps loads light. Buy smaller bags of dirt and mulch. They might be more costly but they will save your back.
  10. Use ergonomic tools for pruning and planting. Buy long handled tools so you don’t have to reach as far.
  11. Keep your body straight and get under the wheelbarrow to tilt it. Stand straight while emptying the wheelbarrow.
  12. While mowing the lawn, keep a comfortable distance between your hands and your body.
  13. If you experience any pain while doing lawn work or gardening, stop.
  14. Do gentle stretches when you are finished gardening to prevent tightness/pain the following day.

Auto Accident Injury, Do I see a Physical Therapist or a Chiropractor

After an auto accident, it is common to sustain an acute injury to your muscles. An acute injury has a rapid onset and involves an inflammatory process of the soft tissues. Soft tissue injuries consist of the muscles, fascia, and tendons. A neck and back injury is the most common injury sustained from an auto accident.

For an acute injury, it is best to visit your local physical therapist because therapists are trained to rehabilitate injured muscle in a conservative manner. After an auto accident, physical therapy focuses on decreasing muscle tightness and inflammation, which is ultimately causing pain and decreasing function.

If you have tried physical therapy for approximately 6 weeks and have not seen any results, it is recommended you contact your physician. Your physician might at that point suggest seeking chiropractic care and or imaging tests. After an auto accident, most people receive positive results with approximately 6 weeks of physical therapy.

Guidelines to Prevent Injury While Shoveling Snow

It’s that time of year again when you may have to deal with the snow.  Many people injure themselves when shoveling snow.  Therefore,  here are some tips you can use to avoid a shoveling injury this year.

Guidelines to Prevent Injury While Shoveling Snow

  1. Prior to shoveling, you should warm your body up.  This can be done by taking a 5 minute walk and moving your arms in a circular motion.  This causes increase blood flow to the areas of your body you will be using to shovel snow to prevent injury.
  2. Use an ergonomic snow shovel. One with a curved handle to keep your back straight while shoveling.
  3. Push the snow if possible. Pushing the snow away is better than lifting the snow. It you have to lift it, make sure to squat with feet shoulder width apart, and bend your knees and tighten your abdominals. Don’t bend over at the waist rounding your back. You want your legs to do the work, not your back.
  4. Scoop small amounts of snow at a time.
  5. Use a shovel with a plastic blade rather than metal because it is lighter.
  6. Keep the shovel close to your body and dump the snow in front of you or pivot your feet to turn and dump the snow to the side (never twist your body).  The worst position you can be in while shoveling snow is bent over at the waist, scooping and then twisting to throw the snow.  That position puts a great deal of pressure on the discs in your spine.
  7. Use boots with good traction and once you have cleared an area, put sand or salt down to help with your traction, while continuing to shovel.
  8. Also, make sure you take breaks. Drink lots of water and avoid caffeine or smoking before you shovel.  Caffeine can cause an increase in your heart rate and constrict your blood vessels. If you experience any chest pain, make sure you call for help.

Shoveling with Good Biomechanics

How to Prevent Back Injury with Lifting and Household Chores

Many of us have gone to pick something up from the floor or move a piece of furniture and felt some type of back discomfort.  Good body mechanics during lifting or moving objects can prevent back injury by putting less strain on your back muscles.  Listed below are guidelines to prevent back injury with lifting and household chores.

Guidelines to prevent back injury with lifting

  1. When lifting an object, stand with your feet shoulder width apart or 1 foot in front of the other.
  2. When picking something up off the ground, bend with your knees and hinge at your hips keeping the normal curves in your back.  Do not slouch forward.
  3. Also, tighten your lower abdominal muscles (refer to blog topic- Can back pain be prevented?) and maintain the contraction throughout the lift. Your abdominal muscles and your back muscles work together to give support to your spine.
  4. When lifting, keep the object close to your body.
  5. Use your legs and buttocks to straighten back up, not your back.
  6. Carry things at waist level.
  7. If you must reach for the object, stand on a chair or stool.  Do not arch your back.
  8. PUSH, do not pull when you are moving an object.

Guidelines to prevent back injury with household chores.

  1. Washing dishes– to decrease back strain at the sink, open the base cabinet and put your foot up on the ledge to become closer to the sink.
  2. Vacuuming– Walk with the vacuum or lunge forward onto one foot keeping your back straight, rather than bending forward with each push of the vacuum.
  3. Making the bed– Put one knee down on the bed when fastening a sheet to the corner of the mattress or squat to fasten it.
  4. Grooming– Put one hand down on the counter in the bathroom while using the other to brush your teeth or shave. Also, you can put a foot up onto the ledge of the base cabinet as in the kitchen.

Bending at knees for objectLifting objectLifting object

Sitting Posture at the Computer

How to Maintain Good Sitting Posture at the Computer

We spend a lot of time sitting in front of the computer. Sitting at the computer improperly can lead to injuries at the neck, back, wrist and elbow.  Below are guidelines to help maintain good posture while sitting in front of your computer.

  • To support the low back while sitting, make sure to sit with your back touching the back of the chair and use a lumbar support.  The lumbar support should fill the space in the curve of the low back to avoid pressure on your spine and reduce muscle fatigue in the low back muscles.
  • Your feet should sit comfortably, flat on the floor.  If they don’t reach the floor, use a footstool. Your hips should be slightly higher that your knees.
  • Do not twist or reach while you are using the computer and make sure your work is in front of your body.  Your wrists should be straight and avoid using a wrist rest.  A wrist rest tends to put a strain on the neck and shoulders because it elevates the height of your wrist from the table surface.  Your keyboard should be at elbow level and you want your elbows and upper arms resting close to your body.
  • The computer monitor should be an arms length distance away from you (about 20 inches). Your eyes should be in line with a point on the screen 2-3 inches below the top of the monitor.  Research suggests that having the center of the screen 17.5 degrees below eye level is optimal for neck alignment and for reducing glare.
  • Try to take breaks from sitting because being in one position for too long can stiffen muscles.  A couple of exercises you can do during the day to prevent neck stiffness includes: rolling the shoulders forward and backward, gently rotating your head, and side bending your head to stretch the neck muscles.

Clinical Question- Ultrasound

What is Ultrasound?

Ultrasound is used during physical therapy when a patient presents with pain, soreness, or tightness of a specific body part.  It uses high frequency sound waves that travel to muscle and tissue and warm up the targeted areas by increasing blood flow.  The majority of the time, ultrasound is used in conjunction with massage techniques to further decrease muscle tightness and pain in the treated area.