Can physical therapy help relieve bulging disc symptoms?

A bulging disc in the spine is usually treated with medications and physical therapy before more invasive medical procedures, such as epidural steroid injections or spinal surgery, are considered. If your bulging disc is causing pain and other symptoms, there’s a good chance a physical therapy plan can be designed to relieve your pain and discomfort. In fact, many patients are able to find meaningful pain relief from nonsurgical treatments, such as the physical therapy techniques outlined below.

How physical therapy helps a bulging disc

Physical therapy includes a combination of pain management techniques, therapeutic exercises, massage therapy and functional training practices aimed at:

  • Easing your bulging disc pain and inflammation
  • Strengthening muscles in the back and abdomen to improve spinal support, flexibility and movement
  • Attempting to temporarily push a bulging disc back into its normal place in the spinal canal
  • Improving blood flow, nutrients and oxygen to the spine

If you are diagnosed with a bulging disc, your doctor can likely refer you to a licensed physical therapist. After obtaining information about your symptoms, a physical therapist will perform some tests to determine what type of physical therapy plan could be most beneficial to you.

The physical therapist can examine your posture and ask about your standing and sitting positions at work and at home as well as conduct nerve tests by manually moving your body in different directions. He or she will also examine the soft tissues around your spine for abnormal texture, temperature and tenderness as a way to detect inflammation, irritation and muscle spasms.

Bulging disc physical therapy techniques

Once a physical therapist has evaluated your condition, he or she can create a physical therapy plan specifically targeted at relieving your bulging disc symptoms, which possibly includes:

  • Joint mobilization by applying varying degrees of pressure to joints
  • Traction or gently pulling on the joints and muscles with a traction machine
  • Using an ultrasound device to send high-frequency sound waves to the affected area in an attempt to increase blood flow, nutrients and oxygen to the disc area
  • Electrical stimulation to treat pinched nerves and muscle spasms
  • Stretching and other bulging disc exercises aimed at increasing flexibility and strength
  • Improving body mechanics for various activities, such as taking out the trash or washing dishes
  • Rest and avoidance of activities, such as lifting or jogging, that may worsen your condition
  • Finding the most beneficial positions for you to sit, stand, work and sleep
  • Soft tissue massage

Generally, patients with bulging disc symptoms have physical therapy appointments two to three times a week over a six-week period. If physical therapy does not provide you with bulging disc relief and you have exhausted other conservative treatments, you may want to consider seeing if you are a candidate for one of the minimally invasive outpatient procedures performed at Laser Spine Institute. Our outpatient procedures do not require a lengthy recovery and are a safer and effective alternative to traditional open back surgery.^

Contact Laser Spine Institute today and request a no-cost MRI review* to learn if our outpatient procedures would be effective in alleviating your bulging disc symptoms. We have helped more than 75,000 patients find relief from chronic neck and back pain.

Browse Related Resources