A hernia or herniated disc occurs when a part of the body bulges out from where it’s supposed to be. In the spine, herniated discs occur when the inner gel that separates and cushions the vertebrae pushes out of the covering. Once this happens, the inflamed part will typically impinge or trap a nerve, which then causes nerve and back pain. There are a variety of different options available to those who suffer from herniated discs that include surgical and non-surgical options. The best treatment is one that you create with your doctor and chiropractor.
Determining the Cause of the Pain (Herniated Disc)
To ensure that you get the correct diagnosis, doctors will generally review your medical history to understand the entire background of the problem. Next, a full medical exam will be performed. Finally, the doctor may order tests, such as a computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, or a discogram, to complete the medical picture. At this point, a more accurate diagnosis can be made since several different types of back problems can manifest similarly. Once the diagnosis of a herniated disc is made, then the doctor can prescribe treatment options.
Types of Herniated Discs
Cervical herniated discs: occur in the neck region. The most common problems occur at the C5-C6 and C6-C7 discs when the cushioning between the vertebrae weakens and bulges. If these disks have inflammation, the bulging can impinge the nerves, causing pain to radiate into the arms and fingers.
Thoracic herniated discs: occur in the upper back. The most common problems occur at the T8-T12 vertebrae, which reside in the mid-back region. Some people may have thoracic herniated discs and not even know it. Problems in this region can often be a degenerative disc disease or some kind of trauma to that area of the spine. One major cause of this pain is too much sitting over the course of a lifetime, as these types of pains don’t often manifest until middle age.
Lumbar herniated discs: occur in the lower back. The pain associated with these discs will often manifest as pain down the legs or buttocks. Some people may refer to a lumbar herniated disc as a slipped disc or sciatica pain. For the slipped disc, the inner cushion of the vertebrae feels like it has slipped out. Sciatica pain is inflammation pushing on a nerve that feeds to the legs. The pain can increase with movement and be bending. Another symptom may be an inability to lift the foot up.
All treatments will vary depending on the severity of the problems and the medical diagnoses by doctors. Not all herniated discs require surgery. There are many non-surgical options. Pain and severity will often determine a potential course of action.
Conservative Treatments who have Herniated Disc
Rest: is one of the most important treatments available. Allowing the inflamed disc to heal through lack of movement and minimal activity should help with the pain. Bed rest may be a requirement for a minimum of one to two days. You should limit activity and then a gradually increase movement so that your body and joints do not stiffen due to lack of usage. This would make recovery even longer. Gentle walking and stretching should happen as pain allows. If the pain persists after a few days of rest, more treatment may be necessary.
During periods of rest, you should also use ice packs alternating with heat treatment to help reduce inflammation. If you do not have a heating pad, then a warm wet towel will be fine. Showers and baths can also help alleviate pain.
Over-the-counter medications: are also helpful to relieve pain. Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen can help with inflammation and pain. However, use caution according to how your body reacts to them. If you are unsure about any over the counter medications, be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist. Over-the-counter medications should not be used for more than a week without consulting your doctor.
Prescription medications: such as narcotics, muscle relaxers, or nerve pain blockers, are available through a prescription from your doctor. If you require this type of pain relief, you will want to work in conjunction with the advice of your doctor to ensure safe usage of powerful prescription medication. IV pain meds are available for more direct pain relief. This may require an x-ray or scan to ensure precise delivery of the medication.
Additional Treatment who have Herniated Disc
Getting the body up and moving: should be performed as soon as possible once the pain subsides. Gentle exercise can help stretch out the spine to keep it as flexible as possible. Back stretches can be particularly helpful, as an aerobic exercise. Walking should only be done at a comfortable pace so as not to reinjure the affected area.
Chiropractic treatment: and physical therapy can also help with gentle manipulation of the problem area. Some insurances pay for chiropractic treatment. The appointments can be immensely helpful. Regular chiropractic realignment of the spine can reduce pain and possibly prevent more invasive procedures. Physical therapy and massage are additional avenues to explore for pain relief.
Surgical Treatments: Surgery may be considered as an option when all conservative treatments have failed. For example, if none of the above treatments have reduced your pain, or if you have been trying all of the conservative treatments, and the pain just gets worse. Should you have bladder or bowel problems because of the pain, you should see a doctor right away.
Certain medical conditions may also necessitate the use of surgery to relieve the pressure on the spine. Surgeries inherently come with more risks, and you should review all the risks and potential outcomes with your doctor prior to the surgery. The good news is that new techniques, better equipment, and more advanced spinal surgeries are being performed every day that make the outcome for the patients better so that they can live pain-free or with a significantly reduced level of pain.
Types of Surgery Procedures
Discectomy is performed by a spinal surgeon to actually remove the damaged portion of the disc. Entry points for this surgery are through the back of the neck. A mini-discectomy is similar to a laparoscopic surgery, where a smaller incision is made in the area and a camera that guides the surgeon.
Lumbar laminotomy will be performed if the surgeon needs to remove any pieces of the bone around the affected area. Removing this piece of bone allows the surgeon to have a better visual of the inflamed area and can also help to relieve any pressure on the pinched area.
Spinal fusion may occur after pieces of the spine have been removed. This allows more stability for the spine. There should be less pain after fusion, but there may also be less mobility for the patient. Doctors usually apprise patients of potential outcomes before surgery.
Artificial discs are a new type of surgery, though not all patients are eligible for it. Primarily, this is to replace damaged discs in the lower back or lumbar area. The replacement discs are made from plastic or metal and can greatly improve stability and pain management for patients.
Protecting Your Spine From Injury
To help your spine stay strong, injury prevention is the best first step.
Spinal Alignment: To help keep your spine aligned, you should always try to stand up straight and not stand with your shoulders curved in or walk with your head down. One of the worst postures that most people choose regularly is looking down at a cell phone or tablet while sitting or walking. This throws your spinal alignment off and puts immense pressure on your neck. Electronics should always be parallel to the eyes, instead of your eyes and neck moving to meet the electronics. Also, if you sit at a desk for long periods of time, you should routinely get up to stretch. Again, all electronics need to be at eye height for sitting and the keyboard should be placed in an ergonomic position to alleviate any pinching in the shoulders.
Lifting heavy objects: A squat is the best position to start for lifting items that are too heavy. A better option it to have an additional person help to distribute the weight. If you must lift something on your own, be sure to push up with the thigh muscles when lifting from the squat position and keep your back straight by pulling your shoulders back and pushing your buttocks out.
Optimum body weight: Maintaining a good body weight will also help to alleviate any spinal issues. Extra weight around the middle can cause the spine to constantly adjust to maintain balance.
A reminder who have Herniated Disc
There are many steps to treating herniated discs. Sometimes the pain, numbness, and inflammation resolve on its own. Other times with rest, heat and ice therapy, and use of over-the-counter medications. This problem occasionally requires surgery. You should work with your doctor and chiropractor for the best solutions to your particular needs. Depending on where the pain is located, the level of the pain, and your precise symptoms.