People experiencing back or leg pain; muscle spasms or excessive numbness, weakness or tingling in the leg, foot or arm, are often diagnosed with a herniated disc. Perhaps there was a sudden ache or twist in the back or neck, and now straightening out is impossible… without severe pain. Whether pain is dull or stabbing, it is vital to understand the mechanics of a herniated disc, especially if you are trying to avoid herniated disc surgery.
The bones (vertebrae) that form the spine are cushioned by small, spongy discs. A healthy disc acts as a shock absorber, keeping the spine flexible. It is made up of an outer fibrous ring and a central soft portion of a gel-like substance (nucleus pulposus). Discs receive nourishment through the motion of the vertebrae – above and below it. If movement does not occur, the outer ring can become dry and tear, allowing the soft portion of the disc to bulge out. This is known as a herniated disc, which is also referred to as a slipped, bulging or ruptured disc; or disc protrusion.
While a herniated disc can appear anywhere along the spine, it generally affects the lower back (lumbar spine). Sciatica (pain and numbness in the buttock and down the leg) is the most common symptom of a herniated disc in this area. A smaller percentage of herniated discs occur in the neck (cervical spine) and on occasion, in the upper back (thoracic spine). Herniated discs can materialize suddenly, from lifting or twisting incorrectly or they can gradually progress. In fact, pain or discomfort may take time to result, occurring when the bulge puts pressure on the exiting spinal nerve. Therefore, it is vital to maintain optimal spinal health.
Years and years of neglect – nutritional deficiencies, lack of proper exercise, injuries, “wear and tear”, muscular imbalances (postural dysfunction), incorrect lifting, subluxations (one or more bones of the spine move out of position), being overweight and age (the elasticity and water content of the nucleus pulposus decrease) are chief factors of spine abuse.
There are four stages of herniated disc formation: Disc Degeneration: no bulging – the nucleus pulposus weakens, due to chemical changes in the disc associated with age; Prolapse: a slight bulge or protrusion begins to form, which may begin crowding the spinal cord; Extrusion: the nucleus pulposus breaks through the wall, but still remains within the disc and Sequestration: the nucleus pulposus breaks through and moves outside the disc in the spinal canal.
Early diagnosis and treatment are the best ways to begin correcting herniated disc pain. As Spine Specialists, we begin the diagnostic process with a Health History and a discussion of symptoms and previous treatments. A physical examination (structural and muscular); x-rays (can show a narrowed disc space, fracture, bone spur or arthritis); observation of posture, range of motion, pelvic balance (to establish if there is “short leg”) and physical condition – both standing and lying down will follow. A magnetic resonance imaging test (MRI) or a computerized axial tomography scan (CT or CAT scan) can show soft tissue or a bulging disc. If nerve damage is suspected, an electromyography (EMG) may be ordered to measure how quickly nerves respond.
Once the diagnosis is confirmed and the exact nature of the problem is established, a customized treatment plan is implemented. Herniated disc treatment can be a complicated condition, therefore, most results are maximized when multiple herniated disc treatment approaches are combined. Treatments and pain relievers may include:
Pain Management: Prescription Pain Medication Intervention, Trigger Point Injections, Joint Injections, Epidural Injections, Nerve Blocks, Facet Joint Blocks and Radio Frequency Nerve Ablation, are offered to relieve pain, reduce inflammation and muscle spasms.
Physical Therapy and Exercise: The focus is on pain relief, healing, restoring function and movement and improving body mechanics. Assistive devices and orthotics, such as tape, braces or splints can help protect joints from further injury and stress. Herniated disc exercises reduce joint pain and stiffness and increase flexibility, muscle strength and endurance. Range-of-Motion Exercises help to maintain normal joint movement, relieve stiffness and increase flexibility; Strengthening Exercises help increase muscle strength and Endurance or Aerobic Exercises improve cardiovascular fitness, help control weight and improve overall function. The side effect of exercise is weight reduction, which will place less pressure on joints. Many people continue their exercise program, after their prescribed physical therapy is completed. Our physical therapists provide a customized home exercise program for patients.
Chiropractic: Non-surgical spinal decompression and physical manipulation allow joints to be directly adjusted – reducing pain and stiffness. By correcting joint and spine dislocations, chiropractic adjustments help increase range-of-motion. Massage (increases flexibility and circulation), Heat Therapy (increases blood flow and relaxes tissue), Cold Therapy (reduces swelling and pain) and TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation which stimulates pain-inhibiting chemicals in the body) are also offered.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM): TCM is based on the belief that the body needs to be in balance to remain healthy. Pain and illness occur when the body is out of balance and there is a disturbance in the body’s energy. TCM treatments – acupuncture, herbal medicine and various types of massage, focus on returning the body to a delicate balance.
Nutritional Recommendations: The typical American diet is rich in animal protein and fat, resulting in a population of overweight adults and rising obesity rates. These extra pounds can damage joints in the lower extremities – hips, knees, ankles and feet. Consuming junk food, high-fat meats and sugar may increase inflammation – due to unhealthy fats (especially trans fats and saturated fats) used in preparation and processing.
Processed meats, (lunch meats and hot dogs) may contain chemicals (nitrites) associated with increased inflammation. Too much arachidonic acid – found in saturated fats (meats, dairy products and eggs) may also cause inflammation – so, select low-fat milk and cheese and lean cuts of meat. Diets high in sugar (sodas, pastries, sweetened cereals and candy) are associated with inflammation and should be eliminated. Finally, nightshades – potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant contain a chemical alkaloid – solanine, which can trigger pain in some people.
Lifestyle Recommendations: It is necessary to change or modify activities that cause pain, modify the home and work areas (use a reacher tool to pick up things off the floor), maintain proper posture while standing, sitting or sleeping and wear comfortable and supportive shoes.
A combination of therapies is considered based upon the patient, his or her condition and the degree of the herniated disc. The goal of our herniated disc non surgical treatment is to reduce pain and inflammation, maximize energy and stamina; improve mobility and strength, learn proper posture and bodily movements to avoid back strain and resume normal activities. Exercising is an effective way to strengthen and stabilize low back muscles and prevent further injury and pain. Strong muscles support body weight and bones – taking unnecessary pressure off the spine. Maintaining a proper weight can reduce pain and promote the health of the back. While a firm mattress is important, staying in bed for more than 1 or 2 days can weaken muscles and make the problem worse. And of course, do not smoke… it increases the risk of a disc injury.
If you are looking for herniated disc non surgical options, we can help. Discover our innovative herniated disc treatment program in New Jersey and perhaps… avoid herniated disc surgery.
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Call New Jersey’s own Alternative Integrated Medical Services today at 732-254-5553 and receive a FREE Initial Consultation. Our goal is to provide the most advanced and compassionate pain relief. Our Team of Experts and friendly staff at your local East Brunswick, NJ AIMS Clinic, will help you reduce or eliminate pain and improve function. As our patient, we will teach you how to regain your health with our revolutionary new treatment program.