The type of prolapsed disc treatment prescribed by your doctor will depend on the severity and location of the damaged disc. In most cases, a medical professional typically starts by recommending several conservative treatments. Most patients are able to successfully manage prolapsed disc-related neck pain, back pain and other symptoms through the use of nonsurgical therapies.
Surgery typically is left as a treatment of last resort, being reserved for patients whose conservative prolapsed disc treatment has proven ineffective for achieving a better quality of life. To further understand your prolapsed disc diagnosis and when surgery would become necessary, read the following article.
Understanding a prolapsed disc
To understand why and when certain forms of prolapsed disc treatment are prescribed, it is important to understand the nature of the condition itself. A prolapsed disc, which also may be called a herniated disc, ruptured disc or slipped disc, occurs when the gel-like center of a disc leaks through a tear or a split in the tough outer wall of the disc.
Sometimes, this goes undetected; if a disc prolapse does not press up against a nerve root or spinal cord, it is unlikely to cause severe symptoms, thereby having little negative effect on a person’s day-to-day life. However, prolapsed disc material can sometimes compress nerve tissue, which can cause pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness.
Conservative prolapsed disc treatment options can be used to help manage these symptoms by reducing inflammation at the site of compression, blocking pain signals or strengthening the muscles that surround the spine. Examples of conservative prolapsed disc treatment include:
- Pain medications. Medications (both prescription and over the counter) can be highly effective for people with a prolapsed disc. For example, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) work by blocking the production of certain enzymes that trigger inflammation within the body. Locally acting medications (such as acetaminophen) address the pain itself. For more persistent pain, prescription medications such as opiates may also be a prolapsed disc treatment option. Patients can work with their doctors to determine the specific medications and dosing regimens that are most effective for their spine care needs.
- Steroid injections. Medications can also be injected directly into the epidural space of the spine, which is located between the dura (protective covering of the spinal cord) and the bony spinal vertebrae. Given alone or as a series (spread out over the course of several weeks or months), epidural steroid injections feature a combination of a short-term numbing agent and a long-lasting corticosteroid. The benefits can last for several days or months, as each patient typically responds differently to this type of prolapsed disc treatment.
- Physical therapy and exercise. Muscles can be stretched and strengthened through a series of individualized exercises, and an experienced physical therapist can tailor the prolapsed disc treatment recommendations to each patient’s needs. Weight-bearing exercises and low-impact exercises can also help improve a patient’s overall muscle strength and fitness. Patients may be prescribed several physical therapy sessions each week, along with a list of exercises to complete at home.
- Rest or behavior modification. While the right kinds of activity can be beneficial, other activities, such as sitting or standing for a prolonged period of time, can make prolapsed disc symptoms worse. Furthermore, when symptoms interfere with a patient’s ability to perform daily chores, a short period of rest can be beneficial.
Many patients choose to explore alternative therapies such as massage, chiropractic therapy or acupuncture as part of their treatment plan. For instance, therapeutic massage can help ease tension in tight neck and back muscles, while chiropractic care can help bring the spine back into proper alignment. Studies have also shown acupuncture, which is an ancient Chinese therapy that involves the use of tiny needles to stimulate blood flow, can be a beneficial option for pain relief.
When prolapsed disc surgery becomes an option
If neck or back pain persists even after several weeks or months of conservative and alternative prolapsed disc treatment, surgery might become an option. While conservative and alternative treatments are designed to reduce prolapsed disc symptoms, surgery can be performed to remove the damaged disc material itself, with the aim of providing a more meaningful level of relief.
While traditional prolapsed disc surgery involves a two- to five-day hospital stay and between six months to a year of recovery, USA Spine Care offers safer and effective alternatives for prolapsed disc treatment.^ Our outpatient procedures have a lower risk of complication compared to traditional open neck or back procedures, and patients typically have a shorter recovery time^ as well.
For instance, we might recommend one of the following minimally invasive decompression procedures to a patient with a prolapsed disc or a similar diagnosis:
- A discectomy. When a herniated or prolapsed disc is pressing up against a nerve root or the spinal cord, one of the most effective ways to reduce the associated symptoms can be to remove the offending disc material. At USA Spine Care, we can do this on a minimally invasive basis, using tiny cameras to see how much disc material is compressing the nerve and facilitate the material’s removal.
- A foraminotomy. When pressure is being placed on the nerve roots that branch out from the spinal cord and travel through the foramen, or spaces, before further branching out to other areas of the body, it can be beneficial to relieve this pressure through a foraminotomy. At USA Spine Care, we can help relieve this pressure without resorting to open neck or open back surgery, using our unique minimally invasive foraminotomy procedure to widen the openings in the spine as a form of prolapsed disc treatment instead.
- A laminotomy. When a prolapsed disc is compressing the spinal cord or one of its nerve roots, the problem may be made worse by the presence of the lamina, or the bony arch on each vertebra that covers the spinal cord. USA Spine Care’s board-certified+ surgeons can remove part of a lamina to create more space and ease this compression, using a camera-assisted minimally invasive approach.
A facet thermal ablation. When prolapsed disc treatment involves deadening the painful nerves in the facet joint, USA Spine Care’s surgeons can do so on an outpatient basis, using a small laser to debride, or clean out, the joint and deaden the nerves that are sending pain signals to the brain. A facet thermal ablation is performed most often in conjunction with a decompression as the primary procedure.
Naturally, not every treatment option will be right for every patient. For more information about the prolapsed disc treatment options that offer the most promise for your specific needs, contact USA Spine Care.
As the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery, we have performed more than 100,000 patient procedures since 2005. To find out if you are a potential candidate for our prolapsed disc surgery, reach out to our dedicated team today and ask for a free MRI review.*
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