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 traditional open back surgery.
Conservative herniated disc treatment
Conservative herniated disc treatment should almost always be fully attempted before considering surgery. Over time, these treatments can ease your herniated disc symptoms enough to enjoy a good quality of life. 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. 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 relieving severe pain. These injections are made near the site of the herniated disc and typically offer relief that can last for months. However, doctors avoid 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. 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 lose excess body weight, strengthen the muscles and improve flexibility. Furthermore, under the guidance of a qualified professional, targeted weight training and other exercises to strengthen the muscles surrounding the neck or back can reduce strain on the deteriorated spine segment and relieve 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 important part 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 plan. 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 program, it’s important to consult your doctor to ensure your activities won’t worsen your herniated disc pain.
- Acupuncture. For generations, people have turned to acupuncture to help lessen 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 relieve pain from a degenerative spine condition. While the overall effectiveness 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. In contrast, good posture embraces a neutral spine position and helps prevent this wear and tear.
- Maintaining a healthy body weight. When people 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 losing weight. This reduces the strain on the spine, improves a patient’s overall health and can ease the symptoms associated with disc degeneration. Patients who lose weight through exercise can also strengthen 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 — traditional open spine procedures versus minimally invasive herniated disc surgery
If months of conservative herniated disc treatment does not relieve your pain, your doctor may begin to ask you to consider surgery. 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 potential surgeon. If you feel the need, do not be afraid to seek out a second opinion about your treatment options. It’s important to understand that a highly invasive traditional open spine surgery is not your only option.
Traditional open spine surgery is an invasive herniated disc treatment that requires hospitalization, muscle tissue disruption and a long, sometimes difficult, recovery period. In contrast, minimally invasive herniated disc surgery at USA Spine Care is performed on an outpatient basis, has a faster recovery time than open spine operations^ and involves a lower risk of complication. To learn more about finding relief from the chronic pain from a herniated disc, contact USA Spine Care today.
We are pleased to offer a no-cost MRI review* to see if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive treatment options.
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