Are over-the-counter medications effective for a herniated disc?

A herniated disc occurs when a tear develops in the outer wall, causing the disc to leak into the spinal canal. The disc pushes on the nerves in the spinal cord which can produce pain, numbness, tingling and weakness. There are a variety of treatment options available for this condition depending on the severity of the herniation. The treatment options discussed in this article can help you find relief and get you back to your normal daily routine.

Conservative treatments for a herniated disc

The first step in treating the symptoms caused by a herniated disc is usually a course of conservative, nonsurgical methods. While you may immediately consider surgery for this serious condition, most people can find lasting relief from lower-impact treatments. It is common for a physician to recommend the following methods to alleviate the symptoms and allow the body to shrink and heal the disc on its own:

  • Avoiding movements and activities that cause discomfort, as well as stressful situations
  • Alternating application of hot and cold compresses
  • Stretching and exercising to improve flexibility and strengthen muscles
  • Taking over-the-counter pain relievers, epidural steroids or anti-inflammatories as needed

Over-the-counter medications for a herniated disc

While acetaminophen (Tylenol) is effective for pain relief, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are more commonly used to relieve pain associated with a herniated disc. That’s because a herniated disc can cause swelling if the disc wall becomes irritated or a nerve is pinched. NSAIDs can relieve pain, but unlike acetaminophen, they can also reduce inflammation. The short-term use of NSAIDs can provide effective relief for patients with chronic neck or back pain. Some over-the-counter pain relievers that your doctor may advise include:

  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen (Aleve)

While NSAIDs can be very helpful in treating the pain that often accompanies a herniated disc, it’s important to note that NSAIDs cannot cure the condition itself.

Surgical herniated disc treatment

If your life is still being disrupted by pain after at least six to 12 weeks of conservative treatments, including over-the-counter medication, then surgery may start to become an option. Surgical herniated disc treatment has traditionally involved open neck or back surgery with long incisions to be performed in order to access the damaged disc. While most traditional open neck or back procedures do have positive outcomes for patients, there are many drawbacks, including blood loss, scarring and a lengthy recovery.

The minimally invasive spine surgery performed at Laser Spine Institute is done on an outpatient basis and is a safer and effective alternative to traditional open neck or back procedures.^ Our surgeons access the problem disc using a less than 1-inch incision and muscle sparing techniques. Our dedicated team is able to remove the herniated portion of the disc to ease the pain associated with this condition. Ask for your no-cost MRI review* today to see if you are a potential candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery.

To find out more about how we can help you get your life back from a herniated disc, contact our dedicated team.

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