Written by Georgia Hogan

Identifying the Cause of a bulging disc: My personal story

A diagnosis of a disc bulge can be quite daunting – trust me, I know.

I was only 6 months into my time as a private practice Physiotherapist when I had an acute episode of significant neck pain, with radiating pain down my right arm and into my little finger.

I had had previous smaller occurrences, but none had compared to the pain and limitation I felt with this – from one wrong push up.

Like I said – I know it’s daunting, so I’d love to share a little insight into my experience, and what I did to get back from it.

Initially following my first occurrence of this pain, I saw a Physiotherapist for a few sessions in order to relieve my pain and restore my range of motion, with good outcome.

However, unfortunately with lack of ongoing follow up, (and yes, I admit, lack of persistence on my part), I had another instance of significant injury to my neck, with something so trivial as looking down at my feet whilst running.

Again, the pain brought me to tears, whilst I struggled to do things such as get in and out of bed, and get dressed. It was then that I knew that if I wanted to continue my career in Physiotherapy and be able to provide hands-on treatment to others (which I knew had been an aggravating factor), I really needed to get on top of this injury, and prevent any future recurrences.

I then began seeing another Physiotherapist. Again, initially, I very much required the hands on treatment in order to regain functional movement again, though this time they invested much more time and effort into my overall care.

Through thorough assessment of not only my neck, but also my upper back and scapular (shoulder blade), my Physiotherapist discovered that weakness in the stabilising muscles of my shoulder girdle were likely contributing to my injury, and the occurrences of re-injury.

The knowledge and education surrounding the cause for my pain was so valuable at this point, so that our rehabilitation process was targeted and specific moving forward.

My Physiotherapist then worked with me to understand how to move optimally in order to reduce strain and unnecessary load through my neck. Throughout this time I was also completing my Pilates Certification through APPI (Australian Physiotherapy & Pilates Institute) which added so much value in terms of forming an in-depth understanding of how our body moves and produces force, and how my body varied from this optimal movement.

I also discovered both through APPI, and with my Physiotherapist, where my body lacked mobility and strength, which then informed our rehab program. I very much feel that this knowledge and education from the Physiotherapists I worked with helped me gain so much power over my injury at the time.

Currently, to keep things at bay, I am very mindful of how I create forceful movements from my right upper limb, ensuring I set my shoulder blade well when completing demanding tasks (as my body isn’t yet strong enough to do this automatically). I complete my specific rehab exercises most weeks (yes, I admit – some weeks I’m better than others!) and also ensure I maintain strength in my upper body through perform-phase work in order to keep my shoulders strong and reduce strain through my neck.

Since the original injury, I have had a couple of flare ups, though I can always recognise what I’ve done in the lead up time that may have caused this – whether it be slacking off on upper body strengthening work, or a busy time at work, or home-life, without adhering to my management strategies.

I now can recognise when my neck’s beginning to tighten, my range of movement is lacking, and am therefore quick to get in to see a Physio (thanks Kath!) in order to get on top of this before I have a major flare up.

As things begin to quiet down as we enter 2023, after a crazy couple of months, I very much intend to take back even more control over my injury. I now have the knowledge of what has caused my injury, and what I need to do to keep things at bay – and I am intent on committing to further improving my shoulder stability strength, and maintaining those strength gains with my regular pilates and gym workouts.

As I said – I know a diagnosis of a disc bulge can be daunting, but if you do what you need to do to get on top of it, with the help of a Physiotherapist, you can regain full function and get on with living this crazy and wonderful thing we call life!