After helping people alleviate bulging disc (also known as herniated disk) pain over the past 7 years, I've found that there are certain things people can do at home to alleviate even the most stubborn pain.
Before I detail the things you can do at home to relieve your L5 / S1 bulging disk pain, however, I need to explain the cause of the pain you are experiencing.
First you may want to check out exactly which vertebra in your back L5 to S1 are by viewing our article Human Spinal Cord Picture C1 to S5 Vertebra
The disks of the spine are cushions between the bones. Their primary purpose is to act as shock absorbers, and prevent the bones from rubbing together, which would be very painful. I often refer to the discs of the spine as "jelly doughnuts," because they have a firm outer covering (called the annulus), and a jelly center (called the nucleus).
When a disc bulges, the annulus tears partially, and the jelly starts to shift where the disc is weakest. In most cases, the tear occurs at the back of the disc, which is right where the spinal cord and the nerves of the spine are located.
The reason a bulging disk is so painful is because the disc bulge applies pressure to the nerves of the spine, which can not only be incredibly painful - it can also be very disabling. If there is pressure on a nerve, the area will get inflamed, which means that the body will send a lot of blood to the injured nerve to try and fix it.
Well, although that sounds like a good plan, in reality, what actually happens is that the increased blood causes a lot of swelling and heat around the injured nerve, which just aggravates the nerve even more.
In the case of an L5 / S1 bulging disk, the nerves in this area control the bowel, bladder, and legs. So it's very common for a person with this condition to experience changes in their bowel and bladder (not being able to go to the bathroom like normal, having pain while going to the bathroom, or losing control of the bowel or bladder), as well as to experience pain, weakness, and muscle cramps in the legs.
The 3 steps I'll teach you here will reduce the inflammation around the nerve, which will effectively reduce the pain.
The first thing I would recommend you use is ice. Now, although I know that sounds pretty simple, I can't even tell you the number of times I've heard a bulging disc pain sufferer tell me that they are using heat. Heat is one of the worst things you can do when you are experiencing pain - think about it - if the area is swollen, hot, and inflamed, do you really want to put more heat on it? Of course not!
Now, in order to get the best results with ice, you need to follow these rules:
- Ice for 5 minutes every hour - consistency is the key here! It's not likely that you'll experience relief after the first time using the ice, but if you stay consistent and do it every hour, you'll start to see improvement in the pain level after the 3rd or 4th treatment - Use real ice - no frozen vegetables!
For an L5 / S1 bulging disc, apply the ice over the low back (where the disc is) first, and then apply the ice pack to other areas where you are experiencing pain (such as the leg).
The second tip I'll recommend is to use a pain-relieving gel called Biofreeze.
Biofreeze can be found in most chiropractic clinics, as well as online, but basically it is a lotion that you apply to the skin over the injured area, and it provides relief for about 4 - 5 hours.
The way this works is that the biofreeze has an herb inside of it called Ilex. This herbal remedy reduces inflammation and swelling, numbs painful nerves, and helps muscles to relax. Obviously, these benefits are exactly what we're looking for when trying to alleviate bulging disc pain!
You can use biofreeze over any painful area, so feel free to not only apply it over the low back, but also wherever you are feeling pain.
My third tip is to bounce on a therapy ball.
Now, I know this may sound a little silly, but this simple exercise really makes a big difference for many people suffering with an L5 / S1 bulging disk.
Basically, you want to buy a therapy ball (those are the large balls that you see in physical therapy clinics, or at the gym), and simply sit on it and bounce up and down gently for 4 - 5 minutes every day.
Here's the reason this will help with the pain - the disc itself does not get very much blood going to it normally, which is really a problem because blood is what transports oxygen and nutrients throughout the body for healing. So, how does the disc get the oxygen and nutrition it needs to be healthy? Through the jelly in the center of the disc (the nucleus).
The only way new oxygen and nutrition can enter the disc for improved healing is by physically pumping the disc. This exercise allows you to do that very easily from the comfort of your home.