What is a herniated disc and what puts you at risk of it happening to you.
There are a number of phrases that commonly refer to a herniated disc: slipped disc, ruptured or bulging disc, and the oh so often used, 'I threw my back out'. If you've ever experienced the symptoms of any of these, you know how all consuming and painful it can be.
According to the Mayo Clinic:
"A herniated disk refers to a problem with one of the rubbery cushions (disks) that sit between the bones (vertebrae) that stack to make your spine.
A spinal disk has a soft, jellylike center (nucleus) encased in a tougher, rubbery exterior (annulus). Sometimes called a slipped disk or a ruptured disk, a herniated disk occurs when some of the nucleus pushes out through a tear in the annulus.
A herniated disk, which can occur in any part of the spine, most often occurs in the lower back. Depending on where the herniated disk is, it can result in pain, numbness, or weakness in an arm or leg."
Most herniated discs occur in the low back and sometimes in the neck as well. Symptoms vary depending on whether or not the disc is pressing on a nerve. The symptoms are often just felt on one side of the body.
These are common symptoms according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Arm or leg pain. If your herniated disk is in your lower back, besides pain in your lower back, you'll typically feel pain in your buttocks, thigh and calf. You might have pain in part of the foot as well.
For a herniated disk in your neck, you'll typically feel the most pain in your shoulder and arm. This pain might shoot into your arm or leg when you cough, sneeze or move into certain positions. Pain is often described as sharp or burning.
- Numbness or tingling. People who have a herniated disk often have radiating numbness or tingling in the body part served by the affected nerves.
- Weakness. Muscles served by the affected nerves tend to weaken. This can cause you to stumble, or affect your ability to lift or hold items.
What are the common causes of a herniated disc?
Again, according to the Mayo Clinic, these are common causes of a herniated disc:
- Weight. Excess body weight causes extra stress on the disks in the lower back.
- Occupation. People with physically demanding jobs have a greater risk of back problems. Repetitive lifting, pulling, pushing, bending sideways and twisting also can increase the risk of a herniated disk.
- Genetics. Some people inherit a predisposition to developing a herniated disk.
- Smoking. It's thought that smoking lessens the oxygen supply to disks, causing them to break down more quickly.
- Frequent driving. Being seated for long periods combined with the vibration from the motor vehicle engine can put pressure on the spine.
- Being sedentary. Regular exercise can help prevent a herniated disk.
These causes are primarily lifestyle. At Bendable Body we agree that your lifestyle definitely influences your health. However when it comes to spinal compression resulting in disc herniation, we feel the most important thing to address is hamstring health and flexibility.
Our hamstrings certainly become less flexible over time through repetitive sitting and lack of movement (aka lifestyle). However, could it be possible that they lack development generally speaking through the human population... in other words, we are born with hamstrings that don't work very well and our lifestyle only makes it worse.
When people 'throw their back out' it often feels like it happened out of no where. Maybe you bend over to pick something up, or lift something heavy, or make a fast and sudden turn... and bam... you are in excruciating pain. It's pretty usual to think it happened all of a sudden without obvious cause. We are here to tell you, it's been happening, over the course of your lifetime and all it took was for that one critical mass moment to occur.
The health of the hamstrings (their ability to lengthen and shorted and allow movement in the pelvis where they attach - is directly related to the health of the spine. When the hamstrings have an accumulation of dense, unhealthy fascia, they keep the pelvis in a stuck position - often a flexed position. This in turn creates compression in the spine and can lead to disc herniation. If you stretch the hamstrings with resistance and remove some of the dense fascia, you create movement in the pelvis and relieve compression in the spine.
What stretch are good for herniated disc?
First we have to ask, is stretching good for a herniated disc, can stretching make a herniated disc worse and are there any exercises or stretches to avoid? Any time you lengthen or compress the spine when you are experiencing back pain, you are making it worse. For example a forward bend or downward dog directly lengthens the spine. Likewise a squat or twisting motion compresses the spine... aggravating the pain and injury you are experiencing further. That's why when you have a backache the natural instinct is to make a few sudden movements (or movements in general) as possible.
However, there is an exception - Bendable Body resistance stretches. Here's why: our stretches stay completely out of the spine and when you resist your entire skeletal system and joints become suspended as it were and free from both pain and sensation. In fact, we would suggest that the more extreme the pain you are suffering, the more resistance you try to generate during the stretch to alleviate that pain. It will come back when you are done resisting the stretch, but with each stretch movement your pain will get less and less.