Why is physiotherapy so important for slipped disc recovery

Why is physiotherapy so important for slipped disc recovery

Why is Physiotherapy So Important for Slipped Disc Recovery?

 Beatrice, a busy marketing executive in Singapore, struggles to lift a heavy box of files at work. A searing pain shoots through her lower back, and she can barely stand straight. An MRI reveals a herniated disc, the soft cushion between her vertebrae bulging and pressing on a nerve. Surgery seems like the only option.

Across town, David experiences a similar sharp pain while bending down to tie his shoelaces. He, too, has a herniated disc. However, his doctor recommends a different path: physiotherapy.

Why the different approaches?

The decision to undergo surgery for a slipped disc depends on several factors, including the severity of the herniation, the specific nerve involved, and the presence of muscle weakness or progressive neurological symptoms. In Beatrice’s case, the disc compressed a nerve significantly, causing persistent leg weakness and numbness. Surgery aimed to remove the disc fragment and alleviate pressure on the nerve.

David, on the other hand, experienced less severe nerve compression. His treatment plan focused on reducing inflammation, improving core strength and flexibility, and retraining movement patterns to prevent further injury. That is when a physiotherapist becomes crucial.

A slipped disc, or herniated disc, can occur due to accidents and non-accidental factors. Here’s a breakdown of both:

Accidental causes:

  • Sudden impact or trauma: This can happen during car accidents, falls from heights, or sports injuries where the spine experiences a forceful impact or twisting motion. Such forces can tear or rupture the disc’s outer ring, allowing the inner gel-like material to bulge out and potentially compress nearby nerves.
  • Lifting heavy objects improperly: Using improper lifting techniques, such as lifting with your back instead of your legs, can put excessive strain on the spine and increase the risk of disc herniation.

Non-accidental causes:

  • Age-related degeneration: As we age, the discs in the spine naturally lose their elasticity and become more susceptible to tears and herniations, even with everyday activities.
  • Repetitive strain: Engaging in repetitive bending, twisting, or lifting over time can gradually weaken the disc and increase the risk of herniation. It is common in certain occupations or sports involving these types of movements.
  • Obesity: Excess weight stresses the spine, including the discs, making them more prone to herniation.
  • Smoking: Smoking can weaken the discs and reduce blood flow to the spine, both of which contribute to disc degeneration and herniation.

While accidents can undoubtedly trigger a slipped disc, it’s important to remember that non-accidental factors are often the main contributors. Maintaining proper posture, regular exercise to strengthen core muscles, and practising safe lifting techniques can all help reduce the risk of disc herniation, regardless of age. 

Age-related Wear and Tear (Disc Degeneration):

  • Ageing is the most common cause of a slipped disc. As we age, the discs in our spine naturally lose their elasticity and water content, becoming more susceptible to tears and ruptures. These tears can occur even with minor strains or twisting movements.
  • Factors such as genetics and certain medical conditions can influence the rate of disc degeneration, making some individuals more prone to slipped discs at a younger age.


If surgery is required, Some general information regarding the relative complexity of the surgeries mentioned:

Generally considered less complex:

  • Microdiscectomy: This minimally invasive technique involves a smaller incision and utilises a microscope for greater precision, potentially leading to faster recovery and less tissue disruption.

Generally considered more complex:

  • Discectomy: This traditional surgery involves a larger incision and requires more manipulation of surrounding tissues, potentially leading to a longer recovery time and a higher risk of complications than a microdiscectomy.
  • Laminectomy/Laminotomy: Removing a portion of the bone in the spinal canal adds a layer of complexity to the surgery compared to procedures solely focused on the disc itself. It can potentially lead to longer recovery times and increased risk of complications, mainly if spinal fusion is not performed concurrently.
  • Spinal fusion: Adding a fusion element to any of the above procedures significantly increases the complexity and invasiveness of the surgery. It involves drilling into bone, placing implants, and potentially using bone grafts, leading to longer recovery times and a higher potential for complications.

It’s crucial to remember that surgery is not always the first line of treatment for a herniated disc. Many individuals experience significant relief through conservative methods like physiotherapy, medication, and lifestyle modifications.

Understanding Slipped Disc Recovery: A Physiotherapist’s Perspective

While the timeframe for complete recovery from a slipped disc can vary, most individuals can expect significant improvement within 4 to 12 weeks with conservative treatment like physiotherapy. However, it’s essential to understand that several factors can influence this timeframe:

The severity of the herniation:

  • Mild herniations: These often cause minimal nerve compression and discomfort. Recovery can be as quick as a few weeks with physiotherapy and self-care measures like rest and avoiding aggravating activities.
  • Moderate herniations may cause more pronounced pain, numbness, and weakness. While still treatable with physiotherapy, recovery might take 6 to 8 weeks or longer, depending on the specific symptoms and adherence to the treatment plan.
  • Large herniations: These can significantly compress nerves, leading to severe pain and weakness and potentially affecting bowel or bladder function. In such cases, while physiotherapy remains crucial, recovery may take several months and could involve additional interventions like medication or, in rare cases, surgery.

Overall health:

  • Individuals with good overall health: They typically have stronger muscles, better blood flow, and a more robust immune system, all of which contribute to faster healing. Recovery may be faster than estimated timelines in such cases.
  • Individuals with pre-existing health conditions: Factors like obesity, diabetes, or smoking can hinder the healing process and potentially extend recovery time.

Other factors:

  • Age: Younger individuals often recover faster due to their natural healing abilities.
  • Compliance with treatment: Adherence to the physiotherapy program, maintaining proper posture, and avoiding aggravating activities significantly influence the pace of recovery.

How do you know your slipped disc is healing?

While everyone experiences recovery differently, here are some common signs that your slipped disc is getting better:

  • Reduced pain: This is usually the first and most noticeable sign. The intensity and frequency of pain may gradually decrease, allowing for greater comfort and participation in daily activities.
  • Improved mobility: You may notice an increased range of motion in your spine, allowing you to bend, twist, and reach more easily. Daily tasks like tying your shoelaces or getting out of bed become less challenging.
  • Decreased nerve symptoms: Numbness, tingling, and weakness in the affected area may progressively lessen or disappear as the pressure on the nerves reduces.
  • Increased strength and endurance: Through physiotherapy exercises, core muscles and overall physical strength improve, leading to better support for the spine and reduced risk of re-injury.

The Power of Physiotherapy for Slipped Disc Recovery

Physiotherapy offers a non-invasive and often highly effective approach to managing slipped discs, accelerating disc recovery time. Here’s how it empowers recovery:

  • Pain Management: Through techniques like manual therapy, ultrasound, and specific exercises, physiotherapists can significantly reduce pain and inflammation, allowing individuals to move more comfortably.
  • Improved Flexibility and Strength: Targeted exercises address muscle imbalances and weaknesses contributing to disc herniation. Strengthening core muscles, particularly those in the back and abdomen, provides crucial support for the spine.
  • Movement Re-education: Physiotherapists help individuals re-learn safe and efficient movement patterns, reducing the risk of further injury and promoting long-term spinal health.
  • Faster Recovery: Early intervention with physiotherapy can accelerate the healing process, allowing individuals to return to their daily activities and hobbies sooner.

Beyond Relief: Building Long-Term Resilience

Physiotherapy doesn’t just address the immediate symptoms. It equips individuals with the knowledge and tools to manage their condition effectively and prevent future occurrences. They include:

  • Postural awareness and ergonomics: Learning proper posture and body mechanics during everyday activities like sitting, standing, and lifting helps prevent strain on the spine.
  • Maintaining core strength: Regularly engaging in core-strengthening exercises is essential for long-term spinal health and stability.
  • Lifestyle modifications: Understanding the factors contributing to slipped discs, such as obesity and smoking, empowers individuals to make positive lifestyle changes for overall well-being.


While surgery may be necessary in some instances, physiotherapy should be considered a cornerstone of treatment for most individuals with slipped discs. By addressing pain, improving mobility, and promoting long-term spinal health, physiotherapy empowers individuals to take control of their recovery and live active, fulfilling lives.

Consulting a qualified physiotherapist is crucial for a personalised treatment plan tailored to your specific needs and desired slipped disc recovery time.


1. How long does slipped disc recovery take?

Most people experience significant improvement within 4-12 weeks with physiotherapy and other conservative treatments. However, the slipped disc recovery time can vary depending on several factors, including:

  • The severity of the herniation: Larger herniations may take longer to heal.
  • Overall health: Individuals with good health tend to recover faster.
  • Compliance with treatment: Adhering to your physiotherapist’s recommendations throughout slipped disc recovery is crucial for optimal results.

2. Can you still walk with a slipped disc?

Yes, walking is generally safe and even encouraged during slipped disc recovery. Gentle walking can improve blood flow, mobility, and overall well-being. However, if walking worsens your pain, it’s essential to consult your doctor or physiotherapist for further guidance.

3. What is the fastest way to recover from a slipped disc?

While there’s no single “fastest” way, early intervention with a physiotherapist is crucial for a smooth and efficient slipped disc recovery. Physiotherapy offers personalised exercises and techniques to address pain, improve mobility and strength, and promote disc healing.

4. What happens if you don’t fix a slipped disc?

Leaving a slipped disc untreated can lead to complications like:

  • Chronic pain: The pain may persist or worsen over time.
  • Nerve damage: Persistent pressure on nerves can lead to permanent nerve damage, causing weakness, numbness, or tingling.
  • Reduced mobility: The pain and discomfort can significantly limit your ability to move and perform daily activities.
  • In rare cases, bowel or bladder dysfunction might occur due to severe nerve compression.

5. How do you sleep with a herniated disc?

Finding a comfortable sleeping position depends on your situation. Some general tips for slipped disc recovery sleep include:

  • Sleeping on your side: This can help open up the spinal canal and reduce pressure on the disc.
  • Placing a pillow between your knees can help maintain proper spinal alignment.
  • Using a firm mattress: This provides better support for your spine.
  • Consult your physiotherapist for personalised guidance on finding the most comfortable sleeping position for your specific needs during slipped disc recovery.

6. Can a physiotherapist cure a slipped disc?

While physiotherapy cannot technically “cure” a herniated disc by reversing its protrusion, it is pivotal in managing symptoms, promoting healing, and preventing future occurrences during slipped disc recovery. Physiotherapy can significantly improve your pain, mobility, and overall well-being through targeted exercises and techniques.

7. What makes a slipped disc worse?

Certain activities can aggravate a slipped disc, such as:

  • Heavy lifting with improper technique
  • Sudden twisting or bending movements
  • Prolonged sitting or standing in poor posture
  • Smoking
  • Not performing recommended physiotherapy exercises during slipped disc recovery

8. Can a slipped disc be permanent?

Most slipped discs improve significantly with proper treatment, and the symptoms are not permanent. However, the disc itself may only partially return to its original form. Maintaining good posture, body mechanics, and core strength is crucial to preventing future occurrences after a slipped disc recovery.

9. How do you sit with a slipped disc?

Maintaining good posture while sitting is vital for managing a slipped disc during slipped disc recovery. Here are some tips:

  • Use a chair with good lumbar support.
  • Maintain a neutral spine position with your shoulders relaxed and back straight.
  • Avoid slouching or hunching forward.
  • Take frequent breaks to stand up and move around.

10. What are the slipped disc symptoms?

The most common symptoms of a slipped disc include:

  • Pain in the back, buttocks, or legs
  • Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the affected area
  • Sciatica (pain radiating down the leg)
  • Difficulty standing, walking, or sitting

11. What foods should one avoid when recovering from a slipped disc?

There isn’t a specific list of foods to avoid while recovering from a slipped disc. However, maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is crucial for overall health and well-being during slipped disc recovery.

Slipped disc, without proper treatment and advice has the potential to affect your day-to-day routine. As such, it is essential for one to seek proper treatment to minimize further back aggravation. Aside from slipped disc treatment, you should also seek physiotherapy treatments for back pain. Get help and contact us – BMJ Therapy – physiotherapy in the east today.   

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