What is a Herniated Disc?
Spinal Disc Herniation is a degenerative condition to some areas of the spine and depending on the severity the pain, it can affect the ability to perform regular activities..
There are 33 individual vertebra making up the spinal column: 7 Cervical (neck), 12 Thoracic (upper back), 5 Lumbar (lower back), 5 Sacral (these fuse together to form the sacrum starting in late adolescence and finishing around the age of 30), and 4 Coccyx (also fused). Each vertebra is a bony building block of the spine separated by a pad or disk. These disks are often compared to a jelly donut consisting of a hard outer layer with a central softer substance (jelly-like) and serve as cushions or shock absorbers between the vertebrae keeping the spine flexible.
Spinal Disk Herniation occurs when the hard outer layer of the disk deteriorates due to aging and/or a spinal injury. The deterioration can cause the jelly-like substance to move which may result in one or more of the following:
Prolapse - where the disk bulges but the outer-most layer stays intact and the jelly-like substance does not leak.
Extrusion - where tiny cracks or tears are formed allowing the jelly-like substance to leak out. This substance can press on the nerve roots located just behind each disk causing pain.
Sequestration - where the jelly-like substance has entered the spinal canal and no longer is attached to the disk.
The herniation can be present anywhere in the spine including the Cervical and Thoracic regions, but most herniations occur in the Lumbar area. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, 1-2% of individuals will experience pain associated with Spinal Disk Herniation at some point in their lives. Though anyone can be affected, the condition is most common in individuals ages 30 to 50 and affects twice as many men as women.
What you may be feeling?
Symptoms of spinal disk herniation may include one or all of the following:
Intermittent or continuous back pain sometimes made worse by certain movement as well as
sitting or standing for long periods of time
Leg and/or foot pain (sciatica)
Numbness or a tingling sensation in the leg and/or foot
Weakness in the leg and /or foot
Decreased reflexes at the knee or ankle
Changes in bladder or bowel function
How does movement help?
It has been my experience that most people don't understand what is actually happening when they have a herniated disc and they struggle with whether or not it is important to move their body. Movement is absolutely the recommended protocol and research supports the positive impact Pilates can have on treating low-back pain.
How? First, training the activation of specific muscles that can then stabilize the lumbar-pelvic region. Building these targeted muscles can take the pressure off of the spine and help to eliviate the source of the pain.
Pilates can also help with training the mind to adopt new movement patterns. In most cases, clients will have years of movement habits that have contributed to the pressure on the spine -- walking, sitting, lifting and standing in ways that are unhealthy to the spine. Once injury and pain enters the picture, this is further compounded by creating other habits that compensate for pain. Pilates helps to build healthy movement patterns that become natural to the body and protect it from injury.
It is important to work with a Pilates professional that is experienced in therapy. They will be able to assess your situation, build a program specific to your needs, and continue to help you to progress toward your goals -- ultimately helping you to eliminate pain and gain your quality of life back.
To learn more, watch our video on Herniated Disc at www.McEntirePilates.com.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. Lumbar disk disease (herniated disk).
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Herniated disk in the lower back.
WebMD. Understanding spinal disk problems - The basics.