Can Physical Therapy Help a Herniated Disc: A New Jersey Physical Therapist Answers

Treatment for a Herniated Disc

If you suffer from back pain, a herniated disc may be to blame. The human body consists of 23 discs along the spine, all of which protect the vertebrae. Discs can herniate and have their outer shell break down, causing immense pain throughout the back. 

Herniated disc physical therapy aims to relieve pain and other symptoms while strengthening the vertebrae and the surrounding tissue. What techniques do physical therapists use to treat this condition? The experts at Align Health & Wellness, a leader for New Jersey physical therapy solutions, explain everything you need to know in this guide. 

Understanding Herniated Discs

Before diving into how herniated disc physical therapy works, it’s important to understand this health condition. StatPearls data shows that for every 1,000 adults, 20 will experience a herniated intervertebral disc, particularly those between the ages of 30 and 50. Approximately 95% of patients in this age group experience a herniated disc in their lower lumbar spine, according to a study published by BMJ Clinical Evidence. 

Think of each intervertebral disc as a jelly doughnut. The disc itself is made of cushion-like cartilage, with an outer layer protecting a gelatinous substance inside. If the disc ruptures, the jelly substance will leak out and cause patients to experience a range of symptoms, including:

  • Shooting pain in the arms, hands, or legs
  • Back pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling sensations
  • Weakness when standing

Be mindful of your lifestyle if you want to avoid having a herniated disc. Issues like obesity, smoking, and poor posture can increase the risk of a ruptured intervertebral disc and require you to seek medical attention. 

What to Expect During Herniated Disc Physical Therapy in NJ

Don’t worry if you have a bulging disc that needs treatment. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, nine out of ten patients see their symptoms improve using conservative treatments like rest and physical therapy. If these measures don’t help with pain, a surgical procedure may be necessary if the patient is a suitable candidate. 

At the first sign of a herniated disc, reduce your activity level to avoid causing further spinal irritation. You can use over-the-counter pain medications to control symptoms until you consult with a physical therapist. Below is a breakdown of what you can expect during your herniated disc physical therapy treatment

Physical Evaluation

Patients often experience different symptoms depending on the location of the ruptured disc. Physical therapists start each treatment plan with a physical assessment to find out where the pain radiates. They base their recommendations on the part of the spine with the bulging disc. 

This initial examination also gives experts a closer look at the patient’s physical capabilities, including:

  • Muscle strength
  • Flexibility
  • Range of motion
  • Mobility

The severity of your symptoms usually determines how long you need to continue your treatment. 

Stretches and Exercises

A major component of herniated disc physical therapy in NJ is manual exercises and light stretching. The physical therapist guides you through a series of movements that target pain and improve flexibility. They’ll advise you to do these exercises several times a day to increase spinal strength and quickly recover from a ruptured disc. 

Common stretches that tackle neck and back pain due to bulging discs include:

  • Guided neck rotation
  • Standing lumbar extension
  • Prone on elbows

Deep Tissue Massage

A deep tissue massage relaxes tense muscles and relieves pressure along the spine. Your physical therapist may go this route during an appointment if your symptoms are too severe to complete any manual exercises. The massage offers relief so you can stretch without pain. 

Hot and Cold Therapy

An effective treatment plan both in a physical therapy clinic and at home is hot and cold therapy. Applying heat to the affected area of the spine promotes blood flow and relaxes muscles. Putting a cold compress on the area also relieves pain by addressing inflammation. 

Experts recommend using either form of treatment for 15 minutes and alternating between the two for the best results. This popular treatment method is especially helpful if you experience muscle spasms because of a herniated disc.


Your herniated disc physical therapy plan may include hydrotherapy or performing strengthening exercises while in water. This is a safe and effective way to treat a bulging disc because it keeps your body active and works to improve your movement without putting additional stress on your joints or spine.

You can resort to a passive form of hydrotherapy outside of the physical therapy clinic. Experience relief just by taking a hot shower or bath to relax your muscles. 

West Windsor Physical Therapy

Receive Personalized Physical Therapy in New Jersey for a Herniated Disc

When it comes to superior herniated disc physical therapy, New Jersey residents trust Align Health & Wellness. We specialize in physical therapy solutions and other holistic treatments like acupuncture and chiropractic care. Patients rely on our caring team to treat a variety of conditions, from bulging discs to sciatica pain and beyond. 

Our doctors accept most insurance plans, including workers’ compensation, no-fault, and PIP (personal injury protection). Same-day appointments may be available. Contact us today at 609-799-8444 (West Windsor Township location) or 609-259-4991 (Allentown location) to schedule an appointment. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have more questions about herniated discs and how to treat them? Get answers to some common questions our experts receive below. 

How Long Is the Recovery Period for a Herniated Disc?

Without treatment, bulging discs usually heal on their own within six weeks. Receiving herniated disc physical therapy can help reduce the recovery time. 

Can an Intervertebral Disc Rupture Again After Healing?

Yes, herniated discs recur in up to 15% of patients, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. 

How Can You Prevent a Herniated Disc?

You can prevent a herniated disc by maintaining a healthy weight, keeping proper posture, and avoiding putting stress on your back while lifting heavy objects. Smoking also increases the risk of herniation, so experts recommend quitting. 

Before making an appointment, find out whether you need a doctor’s referral for physical therapy treatment. 

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