Slipped disc treatment — conservative, alternative and surgical

Slipped disc treatment is intended to reduce or eliminate the symptoms that arise when a disc in the spine ruptures and the gel-like center of the disc leaks out and irritates the disc wall or pinches surrounding nerve roots or the spinal cord. This nerve compression can cause traveling neck or back pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness, and treatment may be necessary to minimize these complications.

Contrary to the name of the condition, a slipped disc never actually slips. More accurate terms for a slipped disc are a torn disc, ruptured disc or herniated disc. If the ruptured material shrinks back into its normal place within the spine, the condition can resolve itself. For this reason, most doctors recommend that patients attempt the conservative slipped disc treatment options described below for several weeks or months, allowing the condition to heal itself before the patient turns to surgery.

How slipped disc treatment plans differ

Each patient and herniated disc is unique, so a patient’s doctor will consider a number of factors when developing a slipped disc treatment plan. These factors include the patient’s age and overall physical condition, along with the severity and duration of the symptoms. In most cases, slipped disc symptoms can be treated successfully with nonsurgical therapy and lifestyle modifications.

When doctors recommend a nonsurgical treatment plan, it may incorporate conservative options such as pain medications, low-impact exercises, lifestyle changes and behavior modification. Quite often, a doctor will first prescribe a short period of rest to allow swelling to go down around compressed nerves and help ease recurrent muscle spasms.

Altering daily activities can also help improve the symptoms of a slipped disc. For instance, cutting back on strenuous activity, and on motions such as bending, lifting and twisting, can minimize pain and discomfort and reduce the chance that a patient will accidentally cause their chronic condition to worsen.

Medications can also play a beneficial role in a patient’s slipped disc treatment plan. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), pain medications and muscle relaxants can be used to help relieve slipped disc pain. Prescription medications and oral steroids also can be useful in relieving symptoms, but both options carry potential side effects. Topical medications such as creams, heating pads and ice packs can help relax tense muscles and control swelling.

In addition to taking medications, many patients attend physical therapy sessions, where trained professionals guide them through a series of specially designed stretches and strengthening exercises. Regular exercise like walking, biking or swimming may also be beneficial slipped disc treatment options — especially for patients who are carrying excess body weight.

Since obesity can place excess pressure on the back, overweight patients can benefit from diet modification and exercises performed to reduce body weight and strengthen the muscles used to support the spine. However, before starting a new diet or exercise plan, a patient should talk to a doctor, receive medical clearance and agree to regular checkups.

Alternative therapies can also play a role in a patient’s slipped disc treatment plan. For instance, yoga can help patients improve flexibility and minimize pain, while chiropractic care can help realign the spine and minimize slipped disc-induced discomfort. Massage therapy, acupuncture and even aromatherapy have provided many patients with temporary relief from their slipped disc symptoms.

Injections for slipped disc pain might help

If symptoms persist after several weeks or months of conservative slipped disc treatment, corticosteroid injections might be recommended to reduce inflammation and relieve some of the pressure on the pinched nerve. These injections contain a long-lasting steroid medication, as well as a short-term numbing agent.

The medications are injected directly into the epidural space of the spine, where they can relieve some the pain associated with a slipped disc. Some patients experience benefits after just one injection, while other patients choose several injections in a series. However, there is a limit to the number of injections that can be provided in a particular period of time because side effects can develop after repeated use.

Surgery as a slipped disc treatment

Elective surgery usually is the last resort in slipped disc treatment and is only recommended for patients who are experiencing chronic pain that interferes significantly with everyday activity, or who are experiencing neurological symptoms as the result of a slipped disc.

Most surgeons perform conventional open neck or back surgeries to decompress the nerves surrounding the disc herniation. However, these highly invasive procedures involve lengthy recovery times and a high risk of complications, making them a less appealing option for patients seeking slipped disc treatment.

Minimally invasive slipped disc treatment

Laser Spine Institute offers a safer and effective alternative to open back surgery.^ Our minimally invasive decompression procedures, many of which can be a beneficial form of slipped disc treatment, are associated with shorter recuperation periods, as well as lower risks of infection and other complication.^ For instance, our board-certified+ surgeons may perform:

  • A laminotomy, a procedure that can be used to remove a portion of the bony vertebral arch known as the lamina, helping relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerve root that has been compressed by a herniated disc
  • A discectomy, a procedure that can be used to remove herniated or bulging disc material that is pressing directly on a nerve root or spinal cord
  • A foraminotomy, a procedure that can be used to create more space in a foramen (one of the openings through which nerve roots branch out to the rest of the body) if a slipped disc is reducing the amount of available space
  • A facet thermal ablation, which is always performed in conjunction with decompression procedures that can be used to deaden a nerve ending within a spinal facet joint (and effectively prevent it from registering the sensation of pain) if a patient is experiencing joint pain caused by osteoarthritis

If you have been diagnosed with a slipped disc and have not obtained the relief you need from conservative therapies, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn more about the outpatient procedures that we can perform for slipped disc treatment.

As the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery, we have helped thousands of patients find relief from chronic neck and back pain each year. We can offer a free MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for any of our minimally invasive slipped disc surgeries.