What is the best herniated disc treatment?
If you have a herniated disc, you understand how painful this condition can be. Simple tasks like doing household chores or gardening can become seemingly impossible due to the chronic pain of a herniated disc. Though the symptoms of this condition can be painful, surgery is usually a last-resort treatment option to relieve the discomfort caused by a herniated disc. There are a number of nonsurgical herniated disc treatment options available that may reduce your herniated disc symptoms without the need for invasive open back surgery.
Conservative herniated disc treatment
Conservative (nonsurgical) herniated disc treatment should almost always be attempted before considering surgery. Over time, these treatments should ease your herniated disc symptoms. However, it can take some time for you to find the perfect combination of nonsurgical treatments to relieve your symptoms. The methods to try include conservative, alternative and lifestyle-changing options, as listed below.
Conservative (nonsurgical) treatments include:
- The use of pain medication — Pain medication can be an effective short-term solution to managing the symptoms that frequently accompany a herniated disc. In many cases, over-the-counter acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be helpful under the guidance of a physician. Additionally, some patients rely on prescription medications, including corticosteroids, opioids and anti-depressants as recommended by a physician.
- Hot/cold compresses applied to the inflamed area — Alternating between hot and cold compresses is an easy, at-home herniated disc treatment methodology. The application of warmth helps promote blood flow and muscle relaxation, while a cold pack helps to reduce swelling and numbs the area.
- Epidural steroid injections — Epidural injections can be an effective way of alleviating severe pain. These injections are made near the site of the herniated disc and typically offer relief that can last for months. However, physicians are often leery of recommending too many steroid injections because repeated use can weaken spinal bones and muscles. That said, injections can be a relatively long-lasting herniated disc treatment that can provide the patient with enough relief to participate in physical therapy and other rehabilitation.
- Low-impact exercises — While it may seem somewhat counterintuitive, low-impact exercise is one of the best ways to manage the symptoms of a herniated disc. Activities like walking and swimming can be particularly helpful because they can help a patient shed excess body fat, strengthen the muscles and improve flexibility. Furthermore, under the guidance of a spine specialist, targeted weight training and other exercises to strengthen the muscles surrounding the neck or back can reduce strain on the deteriorated spine segment and alleviate pain.
- Corrective braces — Bracing isn’t usually considered a long-term solution to herniated disc pain, but it can greatly help while the patient pursues other treatment options by preventing the neck or back from bending in an uncomfortable position. Bracing can also help improve posture, which is an extremely important component of spine health.
Examples of alternative treatments include:
- Yoga or Pilates — Many patients turn to regular yoga or Pilates classes to complement their herniated disc treatment regimen. These classes can be helpful because they can increase flexibility, help a patient shed excess body weight and tend to be relaxing. Prior to beginning any exercise or stretching regimen, it’s important to consult a physician to ensure your activities won’t exacerbate your herniated disc pain.
- Acupuncture — For generations, people have turned to acupuncture to help mitigate pain throughout their bodies. Practitioners insert small needles into pressure points throughout the patient’s body, and many report they experience relief from disc pain after receiving acupuncture treatment.
- Chiropractic treatment — Visiting a chiropractor can help improve spinal alignment and alleviate pain stemming from a degenerative spine condition. While the overall efficacy of chiropractic care remains a topic of debate within the mainstream medical community, anecdotal evidence indicates it can be an effective treatment option.
Common lifestyle improvements include:
- Modifying your posture — Making an effort to improve your posture is a relatively easy step that can make a significant improvement in your overall spine health. Maintaining good posture extends beyond standing up straight, and also includes the way you sit, sleep and go about your day. When the spinal column is improperly aligned, additional pressure is transferred to its components, which can accelerate deterioration. Good posture, on the other hand, embraces a neutral spine position and helps prevent this wear and tear.
- Maintaining a healthy body weight — When individuals are overweight, the excess body fat increases the strain placed on the spine, which can accelerate the onset of degenerative spine conditions like a herniated disc. As a result, one of the most common herniated disc treatment options is to consider shedding some body weight. This reduces the strain on the spine, improves a patient’s overall health and can ease the symptoms associated with disc degeneration. Typically, patients who lose weight through exercise also increase muscle mass around the neck and back, which further improves spine health.
- Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol consumption — Drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes can affect the health of the discs, potentially making them more susceptible to becoming worn with time. Smoking, for instance, can lead to a faster breakdown of proteins in discs, which leaves them more brittle and prone to tearing. Furthermore, limiting alcohol consumption can make it easier to maintain a healthy body weight.
Surgical herniated disc treatment — open spine operations versus minimally invasive herniated disc surgery
If months of conservative herniated disc treatment does not alleviate your pain, it might be time to learn about your surgical options and do some research on the surgical approaches available for a herniated disc. Surgery is not to be taken lightly, and you should look into surgical outcomes, recovery times and the invasiveness of any surgical herniated disc treatment in order to have an educated discussion with your physician or specialist. If you feel the need, do not be afraid to seek out a second opinion about your treatment options. If you and your physician have decided that herniated disc surgery is the only treatment for you, there are generally two surgical approaches to consider.
An open spine operation is an invasive herniated disc treatment in which surgeons operate on the spine via large incisions. Open spine operations typically entail hospitalization, muscle tissue disruption and recuperation periods lasting as long as six months to a year.
In contrast, minimally invasive herniated disc surgery at Laser Spine Institute is performed with a small incision. Our procedures are performed on an outpatient basis, have a faster recovery time than open spine operations^ and involve a lower risk of complications.
If you would like relief from chronic pain that’s being caused by a torn disc, contact Laser Spine Institute for a no-cost MRI review* to see if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive treatment options.