Spinal Disc Herniations: Facts and Solutions
Sometimes even just picking up a piece of paper will cause a "pop" as a spinal disc herniates. The spinal discs are the shock absorbers layered between the spine bones that are stacked like blocks. When a disc herniates, it has bulged outside of its normal boundaries. The result is very painful and can also be very debilitating for months if not years. Here are some facts and solutions to keep in mind about spinal disc herniations.
v Disc Herniations Occur When the Disc Pressure is High: Bending over to pick up a piece of paper does not sound strenuous, but it can be detrimental to a weakened disc. Disc pressure increases anytime the spine is flexed. Eventually, the pressure may get high enough to overcome the resistance of the perimeter barrier that keeps the disc material contained. When the barrier fails, a disc herniation happens. Some people actually feel the "pop".
- Effectively relieving the pain of a disc herniation can be done by relieving disc pressure. Avoiding bending and lifting is certainly important. Additionally, depressurizing the disc with traction techniques like using an inversion chair, zero-gravity chairs like the La Fuma chair or just by lying down is the best way to quickly treat a new disc herniation.
v Disc Herniations Cause Inflammation: When the disc material leaks into areas where it not supposed to be, the body reacts with a severe inflammatory response in an effort to clean up the mess. Unfortunately, that inflammatory response is often the reason that the pain can be so excruciating, especially if the nearby spinal nerve gets irritated by the inflammation too. The larger the herniation, the worse the response will be.
- Effectively relieving the pain of a disc herniation depends on controlling inflammation. Quickly responding to a new disc herniation with anti-inflammatory medications is a great first step. However, some people need more aggressive inflammation control with epidural steroid injections. For lasting relief, an anti-inflammatory diet can help to manage the pain for months or years.
v Disc Herniations Can Heal Naturally: Disc herniations can shrink and disappear over time. The natural resorption of a disc is more likely in an individual with minimal degenerative changes and in individuals with very good health. After five years of conservative treatment, those that avoided surgery are often doing just as well as those that had surgery.
- Effectively treating a disc herniation begins with improving health. The value of the anti-inflammatory diet cannot be over-emphasized. The importance of quitting smoking cannot be over-emphasized. Anything that improves health, improves the chances that the disc will heal naturally.
Knowing these basic facts leads to effective solutions for disc herniations. All is not lost when the "pop" occurs, there is hope that the disc will heal naturally if the disc pressure is minimized, if the inflammation is controlled and if the health of the individual is optimized.
Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.