Herniated Disc Treatment

What are the pain management options for herniated discs?

A herniated disc refers to a problem within the vertebrae that make up the spinal column. There are 26 vertebrae and each one is cushioned by a disc, which has a soft, jelly-like center surrounded by a tough outer layer. When we walk, run, lift objects or perform other types of movement, the disc acts like a sort of shock absorber for the spine. Without this type of protection, the spinal column would be far more susceptible to damage from a wide range of the activities that we do every day.

What Causes a Herniated Disc?

Even the best designed machines, which the human body is certainly an example of, run into problems from time to time. When a disc becomes herniated, or ruptured, the gelatinous center pushes out and ultimately protrudes through the outer shell. Why does this happen? It could be from the everyday wear and tear that finally takes its toll through aging. Spinal column discs begin to lose moisture content as they age, which leads to less flexibility. When that happens, even small movements and gentle activity can end in a ruptured disc. Other times it can be the result of bending and lifting something the wrong way or through a sudden, violent movement. Most herniated discs are believed to be related to injury, aging and genetic predisposition, but there are other factors that increase risk. Some of these include:

  • Repetitive motions, like lifting, pulling, bending, or twisting
  • Lifting heavy objects with the back muscles instead of using the leg muscles, no matter how many times we have been told not to do this
  • Gender-related, with men between the ages of 30 and 50 being the most susceptible
  • Carrying too much body weight which adds stress on the discs
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • Smoking, which contributes to lessened oxygen supply and, consequently, causes more rapid degeneration
  • Driving a vehicle for extended periods of time

Herniated discs are not uncommon and affect more and more people as they grow older. The experience will vary for each individual. Some will feel little to no pain, while for others the pain will be quite intense. For most, nearly 80 to 90% of those with acute disc herniation, improvement will occur without the need for surgery. The list of treatment options is long. Some of the non-surgical methods that will be suggested by your orthopedic physician include:

  • Rest – rest combined with ice and heat to reduce pain and allow swelling to go down. This should not be prolonged for more than a day or two.
  • Anti-Inflammatory Medication – over-the-counter pain medicines like ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) to relieve the pain and bring down swelling.
  • Physical Therapy – stretching exercises, aerobics, massage, ultrasound therapy, electrical muscle stimulation are some of the techniques.
  • Injections – epidural steroid injections that block nerve signals to relieve pain and inflammation.
  • Electrical Stimulation – pain relief through stimulation of the nerves targeted the affected area.
  • Alternative and Complementary Methods – some of these include chiropractic, acupuncture, massage and yoga.

If you have questions about herniated discs or any other orthopedic concern, the physicians and staff of Orthopaedic & Sports Associates of Long Island are very experienced in a wide range of orthopedic conditions and are committed to providing personalized care in a state-of-the-art facility. To schedule an appointment, or if you just have questions, please use our convenient online contact form clicking here.

Posted in: Pain Management

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