Your Injury and Your Doctor:
When you suffer a spine injury it is (for most) a new form of pain. An intense and alarming kind of pain that eventually forces you to your doctor’s office. My Primary Care Physician asked me a series of questions and performed a series of simple tests. Such as walking on my heels, then on my toes; evaluating flexibility and comparatively evaluating strength on my left and right side. After these simple tests he said it was likely Sciatica, there could be a bulge or tear in my disc and its pressing on the nerve, but that it was possible it was an issue with my piriformis muscle. There was soreness in my back but most of my pain was in my right glute or butt cheek as well down my right leg. The pain was at its worst in my right glute and right calve muscle. It was a shooting pain and at times burning and other times numb. The muscles in my leg and foot spasmed and cramped constantly. My Doctor wrote several prescriptions, recommended Physical Therapy and set a follow up appointment.
Prescription Drugs are typically the first line of treatment for back pain/injury. Often times a pain killer like Percocet, an anti-inflammatory like Naproxen as well as a muscle relaxer perhaps Diazepam or Metaxalone are used to treat the symptoms. The pain killers are obviously to help with the pain, the anti-inflammatory to help with the inflammation in the injured area. As blood flows to the injured area in an attempt to fix the injury often time it increase the level of discomfort due to the added pressure and swelling in the area, just like twisting an ankle. Lastly, the muscle relaxers are to helping the muscles stiffness and spasms in the lower back. When an injury to the spine occurs, the spine’s integrity has been compromised, part of it’s structure has failed. As a result the body reacts by stiffening the core and lower back muscles to provide support to the failing area. This results in painful stiff muscles and difficulty moving.
Commonly Physical Therapy is the next form of treatment. Most people receive effective treatment of a herniated disc through a combination prescription drugs and physical therapy. The prescription drugs tame the pain and the physical therapy strengthens the back muscles to provide additional support to the affected area. Then with time most herniations heal on their own.
Specialized strength training exercises are usually aimed at strengthening the core and lower back muscles to strengthen the area around the injury and aid the compromised area of the spine. Often times the Physical Therapist also aims to strengthen the upper back to improve posture and overall strength. Lower body exercises can be part of the routine as well strengthen the leg and hip muscles can aid in better posture and relieving some of the duty of the spine.
Stretching and TENS Units
Stretching and TENS Unit treatment are part of the Physical Therapy regimen. Stretching is as important if not the most important part of all stages of treatment. As mentioned earlier, your back or spine has been injured and your body’s natural reaction is to stiffen the muscles in the compromised area to compensate. Think of it as you body forming it own brace or cast around the area. But those stiff muscle lead to more pain and limited mobility. It is not good to have your muscles in a constant state of contraction and will lead to move discomfort and cramps and spasms. Stretching will be uncomfortable but it will help your mobility and stiffness. It also helps alleviate the spasms and craps brought on by the nerve pain.
TENS Units or an EMS Device may be part of your Physical Therapy routine, if not it my be worth inquiring with your physical therapist if you should purchase one on your own. They are very reasonable and you can find them on Amazon. A TENS Unit stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation they claim to help with nerve related pain conditions. TENS machines send pulses across the surface of the skin and to the nerves. These pulses help interfer with the pain signals trying to reach the brain.
EMS Devices (Electrical Muscle Stimulation) are used in combination with Physical Therapy to combat muscle atrophy that commonly occurs with nerve injuries. Atrophy is the weakening and resulting loss of muscle strength, endurance and flexibility. Atrophy is common when nerve injuries cause spastic muscles and cramping, the constant state of stress on the muscle causes it to weaken.