Herniated Disc

Intervertebral discs are connective tissue “cushions” in between the vertebrae of the spine. A herniated disc, often referred to by the misnomer “slipped disc,” occurs when the inner portion of the disc, a gel-like substance, is pushed through a weak area in the fibrous outer part of the disc.  When this gel comes in contact with a nerve root, it causes a chemical irritation that can create low back pain with radiating symptoms into the leg.  Contrary to popular belief, most low back pain is NOT caused by a disc issue.  While many believe a disc injury is very serious and will require surgery, disc injuries can heal on their own, just like a scraped knee heals.

A true herniated disc is almost always caused by an acute trauma.  This trauma may be very minor, as simple as bending to pick something up, or lifting awkwardly.  (Note:  this does not mean you shouldn’t bend or lift – disc injuries are typically a “perfect storm” of contributing factors and plain old bad luck coming together).

– Improper lifting/moving form.

– Muscle weakness.

– Poor hip or spinal mobility. 

– Age 20-40.   

– Sharp and sudden pain in the low back.

– Radiating pain into the arms (cervical spine disc) or legs (lumbar spine disc).

– Weakness.

– Numbness/Tingling.

At Home Diagnostic Tests

Directional preference – bending forward will increase pain/radicular symptoms (see video).


At Home Care

– Prone press up. 

– Comfort care:  ice, heat, NSAIDs.

When to Seek Help

If your pain is limiting your daily activities, see your physical therapist as soon as possible.  If you experience radicular symptoms in both legs, loss of bowel or bladder control, or have numbness on your inner thighs and genital region, go to the emergency room immediately.

Inspired Athletx Treatment

Through a comprehensive exam, your physical therapy will be able to determine if your clinical symptoms are due to a disc injury, or other issue in your low back (muscle strain, etc.). Early manual therapy will improve your mobility, pain, and inflammation.  Your initial exercises will empower you to manage your pain through gentle range of motion, directional preferences, and core/hip stability exercises.  As you progress, exercises will address any further movement faults that may have contributed to your injury, as well as appropriate weight and functional lifting mechanics. Strength training is key, as multiple studies show that basic movements like deadlifting and squatting, when performed with efficient mechanics, strengthen your discs.