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Lumbar Sprain vs Herniated Disk:
What's The Difference?

Back Problems

It’s not a shock to suggest that everyone in their lives at some point has experienced back pain. And two of the most common problems that trigger back pain are herniated discs and lumbar sprains.

While the pain and symptoms might overlap occasionally, these two conditions are very different. And knowing which one you have will impact your treatment and recovery.

That’s why in this special article, we will explore these two common back complaints, highlighting the basics, the distinguishing symptoms, and most importantly, the treatment you can undertake to relieve pain.

Everything You Need to Know About Lumbar Sprain

The Basics:

In layman’s terms, a lumbar sprain occurs when one of your ligaments in the lumbar section of your back (the lower back, as low as the buttocks) is stretched, torn, or damaged. These are surprisingly common injuries that everyone, from everyday people to athletes, experiences.

The Symptoms:

Most of the symptoms associated with a lumbar sprain are similar to other sprains: you’ll feel pain and stiffness in the lower back, have a limited range of motion due to the pain and stiffness and might experience some spasms. You’ll also have limited function, meaning you might struggle to sit and stand for long periods.

The Treatment:

You’ll need to follow the traditional recovery process: rest for 24 to 72 hours, use a combination of heat and ice to alleviate the muscle pain, take OTC painkillers, and see a physiotherapist or massage therapist for treatment.

At this point, you should also start to get active again, slowly increasing the intensity and duration day-by-day while keeping an eye out for your symptoms. Make sure you visit a physio that can guide you through this process, like the experts at Strive Physiotherapy. Recovery should take between two to four weeks, depending on the severity of your injury.

Back Problems

Everything You Need to Know About Herniated Disk

The Basics:

A herniated disk occurs when the discs between the vertebrae (also known as the spinal joints) are injured. These disks can bulge out and press on the nerve in the spine, causing pain in the lower back.

The Symptoms:

Some very distinct symptoms make you know you have a herniated disc, including having pain down one leg, pain with specific movements (such as bending, standing or sitting), weakness in the back and leg, and numbness or tingling in the back and legs.

The Treatment:

Despite the typical mainstream assumption, herniated disks can heal without surgery. There are many alternatives to back surgery that you can consider before choosing a more serious option. It does require a lot of work (both at home and in therapy), but recovery is possible without going under the knife.

The first part requires you to reduce the pain and swelling. Similar to the lumbar sprain, you’ll have to rest, use a combination of ice and heat therapy, and OTC painkillers while remaining as active as you can. In severe situations, you can take steroid injections to limit the pain.

The second part is about realigning the disc, which will require extensive treatment from healthcare professionals. You’ll have to visit a chiropractor for adjustments and care (such as taking pressure off the disc and realigning it), undertake physical therapy that can return function to the affected area while strengthening and improving your muscles and range of motion, and get massages or acupuncture to reduce symptoms and flare-ups.

Although time-consuming and requiring a lot of patience, you can recover naturally from a herniated disc. It takes between six to eight weeks to completely heal from a bulging disc, depending on the extent of your treatment and the severity of your injury.

We hope that this guide helps you distinguish the difference between a lumbar sprain and a herniated disc. As you can see, the symptoms and treatments are entirely different. Make sure you visit your local healthcare professional or Strive Physiotherapy to get diagnosed as soon as possible. The quicker you detect the problem, the better and faster you’ll recover!

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