A herniated disc is a very painful and unfortunately very common spinal issue for many individuals. These discs, also known as bulging discs, typically happen after an injury or excessive strain on the back and they can happen on virtually any spinal disc. Sometimes herniated discs also develop over time as a person ages.
A herniated disc happens when the cushion between the vertebrae starts to wear down. Typically, a herniated disc is actually an abnormal rupture of this cushioning. When a herniated disc occurs, it can cause pinching or pressure on the nerve and severe pain.
A herniated disc is not the same thing as a slipped disc, but it can be extremely painful and in some situations, require surgery. However, sometimes, minor herniated discs will heal on their own with therapies, home treatments rest and pain management. No matter what approach you take, it is important to remember that plenty of rest and time will be needed as part of the recovery process.
The best way to determine what type of herniated disc you have is to visit a medical professional for a MRI so that they can get a better look at your spine, your vertebrae and your discs.
How to Live with a Herniated Disc Without Surgery
In many situations, an individual with a herniated disc is able to manage their pain and other symptoms without surgery. The best way to develop a non-surgical plan is to meet with a MD to develop the right course of action.
Non-Surgical Medical Care for a Herniated Disc
A medical doctor can provide assistance in the following ways:
- Provide advice on pain management strategies both with prescriptions and over-the-counter treatments as well as home remedies
- Perform diagnostic tests such as an MRI for more information on the disc herniation
- Coordinate care with other disciplines such as chiropractic care and physical therapy
- Monitor the progress of your care to determine if further action is needed
- Conduct nerve tests to determine if damage has occurred as a result of your herniated disc
Chiropractic care and physical therapy are common approaches to help treat this type of condition without surgery. A MD can prescribe medications for pain and inflammation or even muscle relaxation, but these approaches will not actually fix the disc or stop the issue, they will only cover up the pain. Therapy, exercises, rest and chiropractic adjustments will be needed in accordance with these medications in order to actually fix the herniated disc.
Medications and Pain Treatment
The medications and pain treatments your doctor may prescribe you can vary. These prescription medications are intended only for short-term use and some of them need to be taken under strict care of your doctor. They can include:
- Hydrocodone or Oxycodone oral pain relievers
- Fentanyl or Lidocaine pain patches
- Prescription-strength anti-inflammatory medications, including high doses of ibuprofen
- Muscle relaxers like Metaxalone
- Pain-relieving injections or Cortisone shots
At Home Treatments for Herniated Disc
Many times, especially in younger and otherwise healthy individuals, herniated discs will heal on their own with some time and some rest. There are also things that you can do at home to provide safe pain relief and help expedite the process, without the help of a medical professional. Here are a few things that you can do in order to get this type of relief.
- Take over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin. Make sure to talk to your medical doctor if you are already taking other prescription pain killers and pay close attention to the directions on the bottle when taking these pain relievers. If you experience any side effects, discontinue use and talk to your doctor.
- Rest. Getting plenty of sleep and staying off your feet can do wonders for a herniated disc. Avoid doing any movements, exercises or heavy lifting that aggravate the injury or cause any more pain.
- Stretch and perform strengthening exercises. These are moves that a physical therapist can help you with. Stretching and exercising the area can help expedite the healing process. A lot of core exercises will also help those with back issues as they can help strengthen the muscles around the spine and prevent other injuries from happening in the future.
- Ice. With herniated discs, the painful area in the back often gets swollen and inflamed. Apply ice directly to the back for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day or as recommended by your doctor.
- Relieve stress. Many times, stress actually makes people more sensitive to pain. For those living with the chronic pain that often accompanies herniated discs, stress management can be a great support. Meditation, yoga, breathing, art therapy and massage are all ways to relieve stress safely and help keep the pain at bay.
How to Prepare For Herniated Disc Surgery
In many situations, people with a herniated disc can recover from this back injury without invasive surgery. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. If you do require surgery, here are some steps on how to prepare for the surgery.
- Make sure you have a physical exam and undergo any suggested tests before surgery. This includes x-rays, supplying medical history, and possibly even giving a blood or urine sample. It is essential that you are deemed healthy enough to undergo a surgery such as this.
- Understand the surgery you are about to receive. There are three common types of herniated disc surgeries: laminectomy, anterior cervical discectomy, and fusion or corpectomy.
- Try to stay as healthy as possible in the weeks leading up to your surgery. This means eating a balanced healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, getting sleep every night and refraining from recreational drugs and alcohol. If you smoke, you will also want to try to quit leading up to your surgery.
- Follow your doctor’s pre-surgery guidelines, which may include stopping certain medications and supplements or only consuming clear liquids before surgery and restricting your diet in the 12 to 24 hours before your operation.
- Plan for an overnight stay in the hospital. This isn’t always required with a herniated disc surgery and may not be planned, but it is important to make arrangements in case your surgeon wants you to stay overnight for observation.
- Make sure you have a ride home from the hospital. You will not be able to driver home after your surgery. You may also want someone to stay with you in the first few days as you will be recovering from the pain and anesthesia.
- Plan some time for recovery following your surgery, it will likely take between 6-8 weeks. This may include time off work.
- Make sure you set up your appointments with your physical therapist right away when you are done with your surgery. This way you can begin your recovery process as soon as you are ready.
Preventing Further Issues With Your Herniated Disc
In addition to treating a current herniated disc, there are things you can do to prevent further issues with your disc and to prevent herniated discs again in the future. These include the following:
- Maintaining a healthy weight. Individuals who are overweight naturally have more stress on their spine and on every disc in their back. Managing your weight is a great first step towards relieving this extra pressure and ensuring issues don’t happen again in the future.
- Take calcium and vitamin D supplements to keep your spine strong.
- Exercise daily to maintain a healthy body. Low impact exercises such as riding a stationary bike, Pilates, walking, and swimming are all great places to start. Stretching and yoga are also great for the back.
- Pay attention to your posture. This is particularly important if you are sitting at a desk all day long. If you do need to be at a desk, make sure you get up as much as possible to move around and use a chair that has proper support.
- Visit a chiropractor regularly to keep your spine in proper alignment. This is a great way to prevent spinal issues such as herniated discs from happening in the future.
- Sleep on a firm mattress and always try to sleep on your side for proper support.
- Avoid heavy lifting when necessary and make sure to use proper form while lifting any heavy object.
- Make sure you are wearing proper shoes. Many of the extra stresses we put on the back actually come from footwear.
These lifestyle changes can not only help with the existing disc issues that you have, but they may also be able to help lessen your chances of having a similar disc issue again in the future.