It’s not uncommon for athletes and bodybuilders to experience a herniated disc, which can quickly deter even the most dedicated individual from working out. As a result, many people ask the question, what does a herniated disc feel like and what should be done about it?
What Is a Herniated Disc?
A herniated or bulging disc occurs whenever the disc protrudes unnaturally from the spine, resulting in pressure on the nerves. It is one of the most common diagnosis among patients with back pain, and may be caused by a number of things including aging, spinal injury, or repetitive, heavy lifting. Among bodybuilders, it can occur whenever an individual lifts too much weight or attempts to maneuver the body into unusual positions while lifting, i.e. twisting. Uneven pressure on the discs over a period of months or years can also cause them to break down and eventually bulge out.
Herniated Disc Symptoms
It can often be difficult to distinguish a herniated disc from other conditions, which is why many people ask “What does a herniated disc feel like?” Those who are experiencing a herniated disc may notice one or more of the following:
- Discomfort that occurs when bending forward as well as when returning upright from a bent-over position.
- Muscle weakness, numbness and/or tingling due to affected nerves.
- Sciatica, or leg pain that radiates down the back of one leg. Nearly 90% of all patients with a herniated disc will experience some form of sciatica. The pain can be described as sharp, piercing, electric and radiating among others.
- You may also have difficulty lifting your foot while standing or walking, or balancing evenly with your toes.
Treating a Herniated Disc
Dr. Jason Highsmith recommends that patients with a herniated disc do not lie around, as those who do so often do not respond well to treatment. Often, performing low-impact aerobics activities such as bicycling or walking rather than jogging or running will provide some relief, as will lifting lighter weights or switching from barbells to resistance bands. Other components of a treatment plan include:
- Using over-the-counter medication to reduce swelling and pain.
- Supporting the back with a brace.
- Applying hot and cold therapy.
Strengthening the Supporting Muscles
Individuals can also obtain relief from a herniated disc by strengthening the muscles that hold the supporting joints and bones in place. Yoga and Pilates are both known for their ability to improve flexibility and strengthen and stabilize the core. Dynamic lumbar stabilization exercises such those prescribed by a physical therapist may also be effective. Once pain is controlled and managed, individuals will undergo three phases, and should vary their workout accordingly:
- Phase 1 – Acute Inflammatory Phase: During this phase, which lasts approximately two weeks, the spine should be lightly exercised, yet remain in a neutral position throughout the workout.
- Phase 2 – Basic Stabilization and Repair Phase: For the next two to four weeks, the obliques and other diagonally-oriented muscles of the spine may be challenged, and more weight can gradually be added to a routine.
- Phase 3 – Strengthening and Rotation Phase: Train the spine without flexing or extending, and resume normal activities when doing so results in no pain.
A herniated disc back injury is no fun, and often gets in the way of one’s fitness goals. Fortunately, it is quite possible to obtain relief at home so that an individual can continue exercising.