Physical Therapy for Herniated Discs

Herniated discs can be very painful and many opt to use surgery to help relieve their pain. However, surgery brings its own side effects and isn’t always a very safe option. Because of this, physical therapy might be something to consider. Below you’ll discover more behind what causes a herniated disc and how to heal a herniated disc naturally with physical therapy.

What is a Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc occurs when a spinal vertebra slides out of its natural position. This can cause its exterior to slightly crack. Some people don’t realize when they have a herniated disc, but many might experience symptoms such as numbness in the arms and legs, back pain, a stiff neck, and muscle spasms.

What Causes Herniated Discs?

There are quite a few things that cause a herniated disc. One of the most common reasons is because of an injury. For instance, if you use improper posture when lifting a heavy object, it could put pressure on your spine. This might encourage a disc to pop out of place. If not fixed immediately, it could start to press on surrounding nerves which could worsen the pain.
Sometimes age can also result in herniated discs. As our body gets older, the construction of our spinal discs starts to wear down. Because of this, it makes it much easier for a disc to move out of place.

How Does Physical Therapy Work?

Physical therapy is an alternative form of medicine that focuses on using exercises, massage therapy, diet plans, and bodily adjustments to heal pain and injuries. A physical therapist will do a quick check-up of your body at first to identify places of concern and where the treatment needs to focus on. They’ll then come up with a personalized plan that works according to your body’s needs.

Is Physical Therapy Safe for Herniated Discs?

It’s very safe to use physical therapy if you have a herniated disc. In fact, most of the time, physical therapy is one of the most effective ways to treat it. This is because it makes you move your body and adjust it in certain ways so that it naturally heals itself.

To help your physical therapist better understand the scope of your problem, they’ll ask you a few questions. These might include:

  • When did the pain first occur?
  • What type of pain do you feel?
  • Are there certain times during the day when this pain is worse?

Four ways Physical Therapy Can Help Heal Herniated Discs

  1. It relives pressure and pain. Physical therapy can significantly decrease the pressure and pain around your spine caused by herniated discs. A physical therapist understands the connection between all body parts and will encourage you to do certain stretches and exercises according to this.
    This type of therapy will also restore the equal balance of fluid between your bones. Because of this, it will not only help reduce pain, but ensure your bones stay in place. This can be very helpful at preventing herniated discs.
  2. It strengthen your bone. You’ll find that physical therapy can strengthen your bones, something which can prevent future injuries. By moving your body, it will build up your bone density and the muscles that surround them, especially near your spine. This can prevent spinal disc degeneration and prevent potential spinal injuries should you accidentally move your body in an awkward way.
  3. It incorporates massages. Physical therapy often incorporates different types of massages into your treatments to help relieve pain. One of the most commonly used massages is the deep tissue massage. This type is designed to remove muscle knots and relieve pressure around connective tissues. Not only does this help reduce pain, but it can increase blood flow and reduce inflammation.
  4. It uses Natural healing methods. Many times you’ll find that physical therapy uses numerous natural healing methods.
    • Heat and cold Therapy: One method a physical therapist might use is heat and cold therapy. Heat therapy is used to increase blood flow which can encourage your body to provide extra nutrients to the injured area. It can also calm muscle spasms. Cold therapy works to slow blood circulation which can reduce inflammation. To do cold therapy, a physical therapist might give you an ice pack to place on the area of concern or use a vapocoolant spray on it.
    • Hydrotherapy: Another useful method that might be incorporated is hydrotherapy. This uses water as a way to help exercise your body. Most of the time, a physical therapist will have a small pool for you to sit in. While sitting in it, they might then ask that you do certain stretches. This will help to prevent you from feeling pain when moving, but give your body the same benefits as if you did the exercises outside of the water. In addition to the hydrotherapy you do at physical therapy, your therapist might also suggest doing water aerobics. This is gentle enough to not cause severe pain, but strong enough to help relieve tension and give your body energy.
    • Tens: Sometimes a physical therapist will use a TENS machine to help with pain. This machine sends electrical currents throughout your body as a way to stimulate your muscles. By doing so, it releases endorphins which are natural painkillers.
    • Chiropractic Care: You’ll also find that some physical therapists might refer you to a chiropractor. While somewhat similar, chiropractic care focuses specifically on the area of pain and does certain musculoskeletal adjustments to relieve it. A chiropractor can realign your spine and ensure there aren’t other spinal issues that might be causing misalignments.
    • Exercise and Stretches: The last main way physical therapy can help with naturally healing herniated discs is with the help of simple exercises and stretches. While you need to be careful when doing these, a physical therapist can guide you as to how to do so safely. These will also improve spinal flexibility and prevent a herniated disc from occurring again. Some they might suggest you do include the back flexion stretch, knee-to-chest stretch, and seated chair stretch.

Physical therapy can be very helpful at healing and preventing herniated discs. Not only does it use natural methods to stop pain, but it can strengthen your body to avert future injuries.


Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab and has been a chiropractor for over 20 years. His practice has treated thousands of Juneau patients from different health problems through physical therapy, chiropractic care, and massage therapy designed to help give long-lasting relief .

Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe, Organic Facts, and Thrive Global. He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. And he continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.