What types of ruptured disc treatment options are available to me?
Ruptured disc treatment — an overview of the treatments available
If you have a ruptured disc or herniated disc, you have probably experienced the pain and other symptoms that can develop from this condition. While the pain can begin as hardly noticeable, it can become severe and debilitating if left untreated. Ruptured disc treatment attempts to alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with a tear in the disc wall (also called a disc herniation), or disc material that is pressing upon the spinal cord or its nerve roots. Treatments can range from pain medications to chiropractic adjustments; however, short of surgery, virtually all conservative ruptured disc treatment options are designed to provide only temporary relief.
Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you suspect you have a ruptured disc or torn disc and are suffering from chronic pain and symptoms. Your doctor can discuss the treatment options that can help your specific condition. Before you consult your doctor, take some time to research what a ruptured disc is and some of the common treatments so you can play an active role in choosing your best treatment option.
What is a ruptured disc?
Your vertebrae are separated by spongy discs that have a tough outer layer called the annulus fibrosus which covers and protects the nucleus pulposus, a gel-like substance inside each disc. As we age, the nucleus loses its fluid content and begins to degenerate. If there is further breakdown of a disc, the outer covering of the disc can rupture, pushing the nucleus out into the spinal canal. When this occurs, the discs don’t allow normal movement, and that can lead to pain, weakness and other symptoms. Aging is just one of a few possible ruptured disc causes. Others include the onset of degenerative disc disease, the aftermath of car accidents and sports-related injuries, and also genetic predisposition.
Symptoms of a ruptured disc
Symptoms vary depending on the position of the ruptured disc and the size of its herniation. However, a ruptured disc is typically preceded by neck pain or low back pain (as is common with a lumbar herniated disc), numbness and weakness. Mobility may decrease and this can limit your daily activities like playing tennis, shopping or going to work. That’s when ruptured disc treatment options can be beneficial. Treatments also can help bridge the gap as your body works to heal itself and absorb wayward disc material.
Conservative treatment options
If a ruptured disc is diagnosed by a physician, the next step is to discuss available treatment options. In most cases, the most prudent initial approach to treating the symptoms of a ruptured disc is a combination of nonsurgical, conservative techniques. While these treatments aren’t necessarily designed to offer immediate relief, over the course of several weeks or months, it is often possible to alleviate the discomfort caused by a ruptured disc and potentially maintain or regain flexibility in the area around the deteriorated disc.
The most important thing you can do is to work closely with a spine specialist to identify the conservative treatment options that will give you the best chance at overcoming your pain. There are many different ruptured disc treatment methods currently available, but the wrong approach could prove ineffective or even make matters worse, which is why you should never attempt a new treatment without consulting a medical professional. Treatments that work for some don’t work for all, and depending on your specific condition, overall health and the cause of your herniated disc, any number of treatments could possibly be recommended, including:
- Rest — Limited rest is often advised to take pressure off the neck or back and let the body naturally heal. That said, you want to be careful not to become too sedentary as prolonged inactivity can weaken muscles and actually exacerbate the problem.
- Modified activity — Sometimes, lifestyle adjustments might be recommended to help alleviate strain on the spine and keep it healthy. This might include anything from shedding a little extra body weight to quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption and avoiding activities like high-impact sports that can strain the spine.
- Medication — The use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help reduce inflammation and provide short-term relief. Pain killers, muscle relaxers and other medication may also be recommended on an as-needed basis.
- Cold and hot packs — An easy at-home treatment is the use of either hot or cold compresses. Heating packs help improve blood flow, promote circulation and facilitate the healing process; ice packs numb pain and reduce swelling and inflammation.
- Stretching and strengthening exercises — In some instances, one of the most effective ruptured disc treatment approaches is through targeted exercise. By strengthening the muscles that support the neck and back, it may be possible to alleviate some of the strain placed on the ruptured disc, thereby alleviating painful symptoms. Exercise is also helpful because it helps patients lose excess weight, further alleviating stress on the spine.
Many patients also turn to complementary and alternative medicine to assist in their recovery. The use of chiropractic therapy, acupuncture and other similar options are particularly popular worldwide. However, these ruptured disc treatment approaches are somewhat controversial in the medical community because their overall effectiveness hasn’t been fully established. Still, many patients provide anecdotal evidence that alternative medicine produces meaningful results. It just remains extremely important that you inform your physician before beginning any new treatment — alternative or otherwise — to make sure that you are giving yourself the best possible chance to overcome your disc pain.
Furthermore, conservative treatment of any kind can be a slow process. Finding the right combination of treatments can require a certain degree of trial and error, and as a result it’s very important to remain patient and tell your physician if any particular approach is helping or not. And, if you ever experience additional pain from a treatment, stop it immediately and speak with your physician before proceeding.
Surgery for a ruptured disc
If after weeks or months of conservative treatment you do not experience the results you would expect, ruptured disc surgery may be an option. While surgical ruptured disc treatment methods tend to be reserved as a last resort when no other treatment delivers results, they can be effective. At Laser Spine Institute, we offer a number of minimally invasive outpatient procedures. Unlike traditional open spine surgery, which requires several days of hospitalization and an often difficult recovery process, our patients go home the same day as their procedure. That’s because our ruptured disc treatment procedures require only a small initial incision and muscle tissue is spared as much as possible as our surgical team accesses the spine. By limiting muscle disruption, our surgeons help our patients enjoy a quicker recuperation time than with other surgical treatments, including open spine surgery, and also a lower risk for postsurgical complications like infection.
To learn more about the many advanced ruptured disc treatment methods that we offer at Laser Spine Institute and to determine if you might benefit from one of our minimally invasive procedures, contact us today for a no-cost review of your MRI.*