How Do I Treat a Herniated Disk?

There are various treatment options for those dealing with herniated discs. The treatment option that is best for you depends not only on the nature of your condition, but also on your overall health and the level of pain you are experiencing.

Often, doctors recommend non-surgical methods for treating a herniated disc. This is because pain usually lessens after a few weeks, and most people are able to return to active lifestyles. Additionally, the long-term results experienced with surgical and non-surgical treatments are similar. However, surgical treatments may be recommended when muscle weakness or incontinence are side effects of a herniated disc.
Non-surgical treatments start with reducing activity and taking medication to lessen pain. Bed rest is often recommended for a day or two, and over-the-counter drugs, such as acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen, can be used to relieve pain. Neuropathic medications, such as gabapentin and duloxetine, may be used for pain control as well. Interestingly, even tricyclic antidepressants may be used to relieve herniated disc pain. Additionally, muscle relaxants may be used for back spasms, and corticosteroids may be employed for reducing inflammation and relieving pain.

Other techniques used to relieve pain include hot and cold therapy. This involves applying cold packs or warm compresses to the back. Some people enjoy similar results when they soak in warm baths or use heat lamps. Some also try transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), a procedure that pinpoints the nerves with a small electrical current. Wearing a brace may also help to increase a patient's comfort, and sitting or performing exercises in water, which is called hydrotherapy, helps some people as well.

Once the pain of a herniated disc has lessened, most doctors recommend exercising to help in preventing new injuries and increasing comfort. Stretching can help, and stretches referred to as McKenzie maneuvers are often used to control pain. Doctors often recommend exercises to help in correcting the posture, increasing the strength of back-supporting muscles, and improving flexibility. Physical therapy may be prescribed, depending on the severity of the herniated disc. Additionally, gradually increasing amounts of aerobic exercise may be recommended as well.
If non-surgical treatment methods fail to provide adequate pain relief, surgery may be necessary to treat a herniated disc. Doctors typically recommend surgery when there is a significant level of muscle weakness or the affected muscles are gradually becoming weaker. It may also be recommended when the patient experiences a loss of bladder control as a result of the disc problems. Sometimes, a herniated disc can cause a person to have a more limited range of motion; this may be an important factor in the decision to opt for surgery. Likewise, loss of feeling may indicate a need for surgery.