I recently wrote about dealing with a herniated disc at L5-S1 in a post entitled Can an Inversion Table Heal a Herniated Disc? I mentioned that I had bought an inversion table to help with my injury and wondered just how much it would help in my healing.
Well, as it is now June, I’ve been dealing with this injury for about six months now. Yes, it is better – less severe sciatic pain and less overall soreness. However, I still deal with some aches and pain, especially if I overdo my physical activity. Too much gardening, working around the house, and improper posture (I try very hard to remember to stand up straight!) can leave me in a world of hurt. In full disclosure, I’ve gone back to my usual level of activity because who wants to lay in bed all day?! However, I’m very careful to not bend at the waist and making sure I spend some time during the day lying down to get pressure off my injured spine. I went back to my usual full workout, but have cut out any lower body heavy lifting that affects my spine. And while I am still using the inversion table, I am only using it 3-4 times a week.
I can’t say if the inversion table is completely helping me. I know, logically, it’s a great help to the spine, taking the pressure off the intervertebral discs. However, I don’t know if it’s aided in my recovery. Everyday that passes by, I wonder if I will ever be rid of this herniated disc. I think about all of the things I learned from the chiropractor and the internet about how to heal. I think I’ve just realized that, like with most things in life, there isn’t an absolute, easy solution to this problem. Multiple variables are in play and must work together to reach the desired outcome. I think the inversion table helps, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle.
Since my diagnosis, this is all that I have learned about healing a herniated disc: (If you are suffering from back pain, please see an orthopedic doctor or chiropractor. They will be able to diagnose your injury and give you proper treatment.)
- BE PATIENT – This is not a quick-fix injury. Depending on the severity of the herniation, it may take 3-6 months to properly heal. If it takes longer, you are likely doing what I keep doing, re-injurying the disc before it’s properly healed. This in turn, keeps adding on more time to complete healing.
- REST – Minimize your workload. When you are able to rest, try to find the best position in regards to your injury to prevent further damage and take the load off your intervertebral discs.
- TRACTION/INVERSION – Traction is the act of sustained pulling of a muscle or limb to correct a deformity (Google). If you are able to afford an inversion table, then get one. Hanging upside down will take away pressure on your herniated disc, allowing it to heal and eventually position itself correctly. Hanging from a bar, hand/head/shoulder stands, and lying on an exercise ball also will help provide traction. You may also use a traction table at a chiropractor’s office to stretch the spine and provide spinal decompression.
- EXERCISE – According to the Colorado Comprehensive Spine Institute, “intervertebral discs are the largest structures in the body without a vascular supply.” As a result, healing is a much slower process. In order to get fresh blood and nutrients to your damaged disc, be sure to stay active and keep up your cardiovascular health. Walking is especially beneficial for your back.
- STRETCHING – Be sure to stretch your hip flexors. We spend way too much time sitting, which makes hip flexors short and tight. This, in turn, affects our posture by pulling our bodies forward, thereby increasing the curve in the lower back. Be sure to also stretch your hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Don’t put yourself into deep forward flexion stretches as this will put more stress on your herniated disc. Also, refrain from or limit any twisting stretches.
- DON’T BEND AT THE WAIST – Always bend with a squat (use your glutes!) to avoid any strain on your injured back. If you’re like me and have bad knees, you can also do the technique golfers use to pick up their balls on the golf course – bending over with one leg in the air.
- CORRECT POSTURE – Remember to stand and sit with correct posture. Don’t slouch! Always be sure to have your shoulders pulled back, your glutes squeezed, and your spine in a neutral position. Contracting the abs slightly will also help. As I have a slight anterior pelvic tilt, I have to remember to tuck my pelvis under, which will correct my spine’s alignment and help relieve the pressure on my injured disc.
- MEDICATION – The verdict is still out on whether heat or ice is better for your spine (I think ice is recommended more). However, taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen will help to reduce inflammation and decrease pain.
- ADD SUPPORT – I honestly believe part of my injury is due to sleeping on an old sagging mattress. However, before we can shell out the money for a new bed, I’ve been adding support to the bed by using extra pillows and sleeping in positions to keep my spine in alignment. I also use pillows in places where I need more lower back support, like my office chair and in the car. Here are a few of the pillows I purchased from Amazon for support.
All in all, I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned from this injury is patience. My need to work around the house, yard, and still weight lift (as much as I did before) has continually interrupted the healing process. However, it is the price I must pay for not being the type that can sit, rest, and heal. So while I try to get assistance with chores where I can, there will be lots of tasks to still handle on my own. So between using my inversion table and being smart by using the guidelines above, I may finally heal this herniated disc. And if not, I’ll just have to suck it up and finally see another doctor.
Cheers to your health!
For a follow up on my back issues and my eventual diagnosis of degenerative disc disease, click here.
sources: pilatestonic.com, healaherniateddisc.com, spine-health.com, google.com, coloradospineinstitute.com
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