Ugh. I have a herniated disc.
No, I haven’t been recently injured. No, I’m not old (although to my kids I am). And yes, I exercise regularly.
So how did this happen?
Honestly, I can only guess that it’s due to all of the physical labor and exercising I do. During the spring and summer, I spend hours outside gardening on my hands and knees, landscaping our yard multiple times a week. During the winter, I make up for the lack of outside work in the gym – intensifying my workouts and visiting the gym more. But there’s also the day-to-day grind of laundry, cooking, cleaning, (plus sleeping on an older mattress), all of which add various spinal motions and positions that aren’t necessarily the greatest for the spine.
I’m the type of person that never sits still and rests. I’m always doing something. Now, this has finally caught up to me. (In full disclosure, I am a registered nurse (not currently working), so I do have a bit of medical knowledge.)
My diagnosis of a “probable” herniated disc is “probable” only because I had an x-ray done, not an MRI, which can conclusively diagnosis this; it may only be a bulging disc, but due to the amount of pain, it’s likely herniated. Of course, my injury is located in a common area for spinal pain, between my #5 lumbar vertebrate and my first sacral vertebrate.
I never truly realized how miserable herniated discs could be, until this pain occurred. For so long, I had thought my sacroiliac joint was out of whack and just needed to be put into place. The pain was always only on the right side (dominant side) of my lower back and the pain was always strongest in my glutes. After awhile, I thought it could be my piriformis muscle that was bothering me; the piriformis is a muscle deep in the buttocks that sits next to the sciatic nerve, the major nerve for the lower half of the body. Any inflammation or irritation of this muscle, can affect the nerve.
I did stretching, glute strengthening, yoga, massage, hot and cold therapy, and ample amount of research – looking for anything that might help with my pain.
However, as the months passed, the pain intensified and continued to bother me. I decided enough was enough and I finally visited a chiropractor.
In addition to diagnosing my problem, the chiropractor treated me with electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) while on a traction table. During EMS, electrodes were placed on my lower back, sending electrical signals to help reduce muscle spasms, inflammation and pain. The traction table I lied on is simply a table where you lie on your back while a system of rollers (that are hidden inside the table) move along your back to stretch and massage. After ten minutes of EMS and the traction table, I was adjusted by the doctor. I was instructed to do a few exercises at home, not to overexert myself, and to allow time to heal my damaged disc. That was it.
Well, when you are dealing with a damaged disc, time is not your friend. Hours can drag by while you try to adjust yourself to sit, stand, or lay without pain. No position is comfortable. Time just drags on as you find ways to cope.
After a couple of weeks with the chiropractor, I began to get better. My pain was greatly reduced and my mobility had increased. However, I still had lots of healing to do.
While still undergoing chiropractic treatment, my husband and I decided to invest in an inversion table (link to Amazon). Besides being something that my husband always wanted, we figured that due to my injury (and the chance of this happening again), now was the time to get one. Yes, this is one of those crazy contraptions that you lie on and it tips you upside down. For the cost of a few chiropractic appointments, I figured it was worth a try to get one; plus I could use it as often as needed, especially when the back pain is worse.
The science behind the inversion table is that by inverting you, your spine decompresses, which stretches and expands the joints in the back. Considering that I have a bulging or herniated disc, the inversion helps to take the pressure off the injury, likely shrinking the herniation/injury and decreasing pain. By stretching the vertebrate back into alignment, the injured disc experiences less pain and pressure, while healing properly.
Inversion tables have various degrees to which you can invert. Mine ranges from 15 degrees from horizontal to 90. At first, I couldn’t stay upside down for very long, but now I can easily be inverted for 15-20 minutes at 60 degrees from horizontal. I’ve played around with the various degrees of inversion and am happiest at 45 and 60 degrees. When I’m at 90 degrees, being fully upside down puts a lot of pressure on my ankles. I only hang completely inverted for about 2 minutes before needing a break. I usually need a podcast to listen to or a video to watch, helping to pass the time. Some people do it multiple times a day, but for me, what works is about 15-20 minutes once day.
Proponents of inversion therapy claim that in addition to decompressing the spine, inversion tables:
I can’t say for sure whether inversion tables actually do ANY of this. I have to think that the tables really do stretch and decompress the spine; I can feel myself elongate while inverted and feel taller afterwards (which is only temporary, due to gravity). All of the other claims are questionable. I’m just hoping it’s the treatment I need to feel better faster.
Not only can people buy inversion tables, but they can also buy inversion chairs, which are better for older people or people with more back and body problems. Inversion tables can be very hard on ones ankles; inversion chairs eliminate this. Others try inversion techniques by doing handstands, headstands, certain yoga poses, aerial yoga or trapeze. It’s important that those with high blood pressure, inner ear problems, glaucoma, heart problems, hernias, pregnant women, or those taking blood thinners avoid inversion. Being upside down places a lot of stress on the body. Check with your doctor first to see if you’re healthy enough to invert.
As the days passed, I continued the chiropractic treatment as well as the inversion therapy and improved. Eventually I stopped seeing the chiropractor because I wasn’t sure how much I was getting out of my 10 minutes with the EMS unit, traction table, and a 2 minute adjustment. (Plus, my insurance wasn’t covering it.) So now, I’m exclusively home care.
I recently had a setback which, as you can imagine, frustrated me beyond belief. Just when I was feeling better, i overexerted myself for a week and the pain returned, worse than before. I think I set myself back about a month, losing all that progress. Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed in myself.
So, as I deal once again with constant back pain, I’ve decided that it’s time to take care of my back. Ice packs, shorter and easier workouts, less housework, and inversion are now my treatments of choice. I hope the inversion table helps; some people swear by them and for others, they do nothing. I’m hoping it does something for me. Unfortunately, it took me realizing the fragility of the spine, to take better care of mine. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
Have you tried inversion therapy? Did it work? Let me know in the comments.
I’ll be back with an update. (Click here for my update on inversion therapy!)
For a 2020 update on my degenerative disc disease, click here for the article.
sources: spine-heath.com, wikipedia.org, sunflower-press.com, michaelgleibermd.com, health central.com
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