Medical intervention for herniated or bulged discs fall into one of 3 categories:

Medications, Epidural Injections, or Surgery

1)      Medications: Usually pain medication or anti-inflammatories are used.  The problem with these are that people end up using the meds long-term because once they stop using them, the symptoms come back.  All medications have side effects and the long-term usage of medications can severely affect such organs as kidneys, liver, and stomach (gastrointestinal bleeding). Common medicines that are used as anti-inflammatories are the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) Ibuprofen, Naproxen, and Tylenol.  Steroidal medication for herniated disc pain is usually given as cortisone injections directly to an area that is painful. The idea with anti-inflammatory meds is that by reducing inflammation, pain may also be temporarily reduced.  The key word is temporarily, if you have any response to them at all (many people get no relief).  Pain meds are also a  “band-aid” approach to temporarily relieve pain.  None of the medications do anything to actually heal the damaged disc.

2)      Epidural injections:  This is a cortico-steroid anti-inflammatory medication that is injected into the epidural space, which is the space between the spinal bones and the spinal cord that’s inside of it.  The idea is to introduce the anti-inflammatory medication directly to the offending area to try to calm down the nerve tissue from being irritated.  The same problem exists, however, in that the pain will often return once the medication wears off. In other words, another temporary fix, if you get any pain relief at all (many people are non-responsive to epidural injections).

3)      Surgery:  All spinal surgeries use high-speed surgical drills that are heated with an electric current in order to cut through tissue and bone.  More recently, laser devices have been used to do the same thing.  Some of the most common spinal surgery classifications are as follows:

  • Discectomy is a partial removal of the offending disc gel material that has pushed out and is causing symptoms. You may see the term “micro-discectomy” being used, meaning a large microscope is used outside of the body in order for the surgeon to see more clearly where he or she is operating.  A lot of invasive opening, cutting, and drilling is used to access the area.
  • Laminectomy is where a part of the bone (called the lamina) is removed to allow for more space, so that the nerve tissue has less pressure on it.  Sometimes they’re called decompressive laminectomies.  A lot of invasive opening, cutting, and drilling is used to access the area.
  • Spinal fusion is where the surgeon fuses the area together with a bone graft or with hardware such as rods, screws, plates, and cages.  Fusion surgeries also will usually involve a discectomy, laminectomy or foraminotomy (to open the area called the neural foramen, which is where the nerve root exits from).  The idea of spinal fusion is to permanently join an area of the spine so that it can’t move anymore.  Even the medical literature is replete with research that shows that the areas above and below a fused area of the spine are much more likely to give you problems in the future.
  • Minimally invasive spine surgery The idea here is to make a smaller incision to supposedly decrease the amount of surgery or minimize the effects. However, just because the incision is smaller doesn’t negate the fact that they’re cutting deep into the surrounding tissues, drilling into bone, removing structures, and working in an area a fraction away from your nervous system.  It’s actually a traumatic access operation. This doesn’t sound “minimally invasive” to me! It’s the same as the other procedures, except it leaves a smaller scar on your skin.
  • Laser spine surgery is a spinal surgery using a surgical laser device (a focused beam of light).  The only difference is that a light beam is used for a very small part of the operation, not the whole operation. Laser surgery still involves surgery with drills to cut through muscle and the other tissue in order to gain access to the spine, then drilling through bone, and only then is the laser used to remove some of the soft tissue over the spine. It should also be noted that H. Gordon Deen, M.D., of the world renowned Mayo Clinic, states that “at the Mayo Clinic, we don’t use or recommend laser spine surgery.”

If none of the above procedures sounds appealing, try something safe, effective, and conservative first. In our office, we use something called non-surgical spinal disc decompression therapy, which is effective and non-invasive. Our spinal disc decompression therapy safely, without surgery, pulls the herniated or bulged gel back to where it’s supposed to be, allowing the torn disc to heal.

Is there a time and place for medications or surgical procedures for certain people’s back problems? Yes, absolutely.  But in the majority of cases, they’re not the first interventions that should be used.

As long as there are no contraindications for the decompression therapy you can also do a free trial, with no-obligation to continue, in order to feel how decompression works and whether it’s the right thing for you.  Click here to see a video of how it works.  You can read more about it at our decompression page of our website.  A simple consultation at our office can give you more information about your case.

Dr. Lassiter

Author Dr. Lassiter

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