How to get herniated disc relief

Herniated discs are very common, and the symptoms certainly aren’t pleasant. A lumbar herniated disc may cause sciatica pain, which is characterized as sharp, burning, or radiating pain from the lower back, through the buttock, and down the leg (sometimes making it to the foot). In other cases, a herniated disc can cause dull or sharp pain in the neck or between the shoulder blades that radiates down the arm to the hand or fingers, and can cause numbness or tingling in the shoulder or arm. 

The good news is that there are a few things you can do to relieve herniated disc pain. Here are several tips for herniated disc relief:

Non-surgical treatments for a herniated lumbar disc

The nature and severity of lumbar disc herniation symptoms vary, and controlling the intense pain is critical when symptoms first appear. The initial treatment for a herniated disc is usually non-surgical. While a doctor may advise the patient to maintain a low, painless activity level for a few days to several weeks, bed rest is not recommended.

Here are a few non-surgical interventions that you can try:

Alternate between applying ice and heat: Applying ice or a cold pack can help ease initial inflammation and muscle spasms associated with a lumbar herniated disc. Ice is most effective for the first two days after the back pain has started. Applying heat (heating pads, a hot compress, adhesive heat wraps, and even a hot both) can also help relieve painful muscle spasms after the first two days. Some people find alternating hot and cold packs provides the best pain relief balance.

Try pain medications and muscle relaxants: A doctor may recommend non-prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen to treat pain and inflammation. Some prescription medications may offer relief from the painful muscle spasms that accompany a herniated lumbar disc.

Go to physical therapy: PT is important in teaching targeted stretching and exercises for rehabilitation. The program may also teach the patient safer ways to perform ordinary activities, such as lifting and walking. The McKenzie Method is one type of physical therapy approach for lumbar herniated disc pain, where the goal is to shift pain away from your leg and centralize it more in your lower back.

Take the holistic route: Acupuncture, a form of traditional Chinese medicine, is a technique in which practitioners stimulate specific points on the body by inserting thin needles through the skin. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved acupuncture as a treatment for back pain. Massage therapy can also relieve back pain by relaxing muscles and releasing endorphins.

Surgical treatments for a herniated lumbar disc

If conservative non-surgical treatment options like the ones listed above do not reduce or end the pain altogether, then a doctor will likely suggest surgery. Below are the types of surgeries that you can consider for a herniated disc. Most of these surgical procedures are done in conjunction with one another: 

Laminotomy/laminectomy: This is when a surgeon makes an opening in the vertebral arch (lamina) to relieve pressure on your nerve roots. This procedure is performed through a small incision in which an opening is made between the two vertebrae to gain access to the herniated disc. After the disc is removed through a discectomy (more on this below), the spine may need to be stabilized. In more involved cases, doctors can perform a laminectomy. This is when the lamina is fully removed. 

Discectomy/microdiscectomy: In this procedure, the portion of the disc that is causing the pressure on your nerve root is removed. In some cases, the entire disc is removed. The surgeon will access the disc through an incision in your back or neck. Some surgeons are now using a newer, less invasive procedure called microdiscectomy, where they make a smaller incision and utilize special instruments to achieve the same results. 

Artificial disc surgery: This surgery is usually used for a single disc when the problem is in the lower back. An incision is made through the abdomen, and your affected disc is removed and replaced. 

Spinal fusion: This is often performed in conjunction with a laminotomy. In this procedure, two or more vertebrae are permanently fused together. While you’re under general anesthesia, surgeons will use bone grafts from another part of your body or from a donor, but may also involve metal or plastic screws and rods designed to provide support. This will permanently immobilize that portion of your spine. 

Do you struggle with sciatica? You may qualify for a new research study, now being offered at select centers throughout the U.S. The study is for an investigational treatment to provide pain relief with a single injection.