Low Back Pain and the Disc

The discs in your back are a spongy cushion that sits between the bones of the spine. It has several different jobs including shock absorption, keeping the spine stable and offering places where the back can move between the bones. A damaged disc is often called a bulging disc, slipped disc, herniated disc or even a pinched nerve


The symptoms of a damaged disc vary widely according to its severity, size and location. It is important to remember that in a lot of cases there are no symptoms from a disc bulge. In fact scans show that a lot of people have disc bulges and no pain at all and no history of pain.


General signs of a disc bulge that is causing pain can include:

  • back pain
  • Pain into the legs from the back
  • Worse pain after bending or sitting for a long time
  • Worse pain with coughing and sneezing
  • Numbness or pins and needles in the legs

Risk Factors

Some people have a greater chance or having disc damage. These risk factors include being obese or over-weight, having poor muscle tone, a lack of regular exercise, advancing age, poor posture (especially for long periods) and poor lifting technique.


Most disc pain will resolve by itself over time and needs very little treatment at all. Bed rest is only indicated in the most severe of cases and should only be undertaken on the recommendation of a doctor.

For most people keeping active with some restrictions to limit further pressure on the disc and allow it time to heal is essential to reducing the risk of long term pain and symptoms.

Physiotherapy treatment will include exercise to improve strength, flexibility, and reduce pain. Other physiotherapy treatment might consist of joint mobilisations, heat, interferential and traction.

In very rare cases surgery may be needed for the disc,but please keep in mind only a very small percentage of cases ever end up needing surgery.

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