Understanding Medical Problems

3 Strategies For Treating Herniated Discs

Herniated discs are a common back injury that can be caused by trauma or simply lifting incorrectly. Depending on the location of a disc herniation and the extent of the problem, various treatments might be needed to return to normal or near-normal activities.

Conservative Treatment

In the earlier stages of a herniated disc, your doctor might recommend conservative treatments, especially if you do not have signs of nerve compression. Managing pain is important due to the impact of a herniated disc on daily functioning and the ability to engage in physical therapy. Your doctor might prescribe a short-term treatment with narcotic pain relievers and suggest you combine or alternate with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen. Additionally, using heat and cold therapy can help with pain. Physical therapy can be critical for the rehabilitation process. Your physical therapist will likely prescribe certain maneuvers, such as stretching or exercises, to help reduce pain and improve functioning. Many people with mild problems associated with a herniated disc find their symptoms are improved with conservative treatment.

Decompression Surgery

If symptoms are not alleviated with conservative treatment or the initial disc herniation causes severe symptoms, such as numbness or paralysis, decompression treatment is an option. During this surgical procedure, some bone is removed from the vertebrae surrounding the herniated disc or part of the disc is removed. This creates more space for the disc so it does not encroach on the surrounding nerves. In some cases, decompression surgery can be performed with minimally-invasive techniques, which helps patients avoid a large incision and lengthy surgery. Although the recovery time from the surgery itself will be greatly reduced with minimally-invasive techniques, the pain and other symptoms associated with nerve compression can take much longer to heal. Since nerves heal and regenerate at a slower pace, regardless of the surgical method, it may take months to determine if surgery was ultimately successful in alleviating the problem.

Fusion Surgery

Depending on the extent of damage, such as multiple herniated discs, fusing the vertebrae might be a better option. During a fusion surgery, the damaged discs are removed and any areas where there is damage to the vertebrae are repaired. The space where the discs were will need to be maintained. This can be accomplished by attaching each vertebrae to a plate to keep them in their proper location. Since the vertebrae are fixed in their location, this will eliminate motion. As an alternative to fusion surgery, such as in the case of herniated discs in the neck, a surgeon might choose to replace the herniated discs with synthetic discs in an attempt to preserve motion.

Fortunately, most mild cases of a herniated disc can be managed with pain control and physical therapy. When the damage causes significant limitations and nerve damage, there are several surgical approaches to help alleviate the problem. For more information, contact establishments like Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates.