Prolapsed disc treatment
Prolapsed disc treatment options to help relieve the symptoms of disc degeneration
The type of prolapsed disc treatment prescribed by your physician will depend on the severity and location of the damaged disc. In most cases, physicians typically start by recommending several conservative treatments; most patients are able to successfully manage prolapsed disc-related neck pain, back pain and other symptoms through the use of nonsurgical therapies. Surgery usually is a last resort, reserved for patients whose conservative prolapsed disc treatment has proven ineffective for achieving a better quality of life.
To understand why certain forms of prolapsed disc treatment are prescribed (and when), it is important to understand the nature of the condition itself. A prolapsed disc, which also may be called a herniated disc, ruptured disc or slipped disc, occurs when the gel-like nucleus of an intervertebral disc leaks through a tear or a split in the fibrous outer wall of the disc. Sometimes, this goes undetected; if a disc prolapse does not press up against a spinal nerve root or the spinal cord, it is unlikely to cause severe symptoms, therefore having little negative effect on a person’s day-to-day life. However, prolapsed disc material can sometimes compress nerve tissue, which can cause pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness. Conservative prolapsed disc treatment options can be used to help manage these symptoms by reducing inflammation at the site of compression, blocking pain signals or strengthening the muscles that surround the spine.Examples of conservative prolapsed disc treatment include:
- Pain medications — Medications (both prescription and over the counter) can be highly effective for people with a prolapsed disc. For example, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) work by blocking the production of certain enzymes that trigger inflammation within the body. Locally acting analgesics (such as acetaminophen) address the pain itself. For more persistent pain, prescription painkillers such as opiates may also be a prolapsed disc treatment option. Patients can work with their physicians to determine the specific drug(s) and dosing regimens that are most effective for their needs.
- Steroid injections — Medications can also be injected directly into the epidural space of the spine, which is located between the dura (protective covering of the spinal cord) and the bony spinal vertebrae. Given alone or as a series (spread out over the course of several weeks or months), epidural steroid injections feature a combination of a short-term numbing agent and a long-lasting corticosteroid. The benefits can last for several days or several months; each patient typically responds differently to this type of prolapsed disc treatment.
- Physical therapy and exercise — Muscles can be stretched and strengthened through a series of individualized exercises, and an experienced physical therapist can tailor the prolapsed disc treatment recommendations to each patient’s needs. Weight-bearing exercises and low-impact cardio can also help improve a patient’s overall muscle strength and fitness. Patients may be “prescribed” several physical therapy sessions each week, along with a list of exercises to complete at home.
- Rest or behavior modification — While the right kinds of activity can be beneficial, other activities, such as sitting or standing for a prolonged period of time, can make prolapsed disc symptoms worse. Furthermore, when symptoms interfere with a patient’s ability to perform daily chores, a short period of rest can be beneficial.
Many patients choose to explore alternative therapies such as massage, chiropractic therapy or acupuncture as part of their treatment plan. For instance, therapeutic massage can help alleviate tension in tight neck and back muscles, while professional chiropractic care can help bring the spine back into proper alignment. Studies have also shown acupuncture—an ancient Chinese therapy that involves the use of tiny needles to stimulate blood flow—to be a beneficial option for pain relief.
If neck or back pain persists even after weeks or months of conservative and/or alternative prolapsed disc treatment, surgery might become an option. While conservative and alternative treatments are designed to reduce prolapsed disc symptoms, surgery can be performed to remove the problematic disc material itself, with the aim of providing a more meaningful level of relief.
While traditional open spine prolapsed disc surgery involves a hospital stay and months of recovery, Laser Spine Institute offers several minimally invasive alternatives for prolapsed disc treatment. Our outpatient procedures have a lower rate of complications than traditional open neck or back procedures, and patients typically have a shorter recovery time as well. For instance, we might recommend one of the following minimally invasive decompression procedures to a patient with a prolapsed disc or a similar diagnosis:
- A discectomy — When a herniated or prolapsed disc is pressing up against a nerve root or the spinal cord, one of the most effective ways to reduce the associated symptoms can be to remove the offending disc material. At Laser Spine Institute, we can do this on a minimally invasive basis, using tiny cameras to see how much disc material is compressing the nerve and facilitate the material’s removal.
- A foraminotomy — When pressure is being placed on the nerve roots that branch out from the spinal cord and travel through intervertebral foramen (spaces) before further branching out to other areas of the body, it can be beneficial to relieve this pressure through a foraminotomy. At Laser Spine Institute, we can help alleviate this pressure without resorting to open neck or open back surgery, using our unique minimally invasive foraminotomy procedure to widen the openings in the spine as a form of prolapsed disc treatment instead.
- A laminotomy — When a prolapsed disc is compressing the spinal cord or one of its nerve roots, the problem may be made worse by the presence of the lamina, or the bony arch on each vertebra that covers the spinal cord. Laser Spine Institute’s surgeons can remove part of a lamina to create more space and alleviate this compression, using a camera-assisted minimally invasive approach.
- A facet thermal ablation — When prolapsed disc treatment involves deadening the painful nerves in the facet joint, Laser Spine Institute’s surgeons can do so on an outpatient basis, using a small laser to debride (clean out) the joint and deaden the nerves that are sending pain signals to the brain.
Naturally, not every treatment option will be right for every patient. For more information about the prolapsed disc treatment options that offer the most promise for your specific needs, contact Laser Spine Institute for a review of your MRI scan.