What Can Help My Herniated Disc Pain?

What Can Help My Herniated Disc Pain?

Depending on where it’s located and how the disc ruptures (herniates), a herniated disc may not cause any pain at all. But when they do hurt, herniated discs are hard to ignore.

Dr. Patrick Doherty and our team at Yale Neurosurgery New London spend most of every workday helping residents in and around New London, Connecticut, overcome the painful challenges of spinal disease and injury.

Our Yale Neurosurgery New London team is known for providing advanced, effective, and minimally invasive surgery for the back and neck that can eliminate pain and restore your mobility. 

Whenever possible, however, Dr. Doherty prefers a nonsurgical solution for issues like spinal stenosis, nerve damage, and disc herniation. 

Understanding herniated discs

A disc-shaped structure of cushioning tissue sits between most of the vertically stacked bones (vertebrae) in your spine. Each of these intervertebral discs is about a half inch thick and contains a soft gel-like center (nucleus). The nucleus is surrounded and held in place by a ring of tough rubbery tissue called the annulus.

Age, injury, or disease can cause the outer ring of disc tissue to flatten as it dries, cracks, or weakens. This causes the disc to lose some of its effectiveness as a cushion or shock absorber between the vertebrae. It can also allow the jelly-like center to push (rupture/herniate) into the outer ring, which may create a bulge in the normally round disc.

Because space within the spine is quite limited, the bulge created by displacement of the disc nucleus may push against and irritate nearby nerves and other tissue structures. The damaged disc tissue also releases certain chemicals that cause nerve inflammation.

This, as well as loss of height between the affected vertebrae, can result in pain that may remain localized to the area right around the problematic disc. Frequently, however, pain related to a herniated disc can travel along the involved nerves and result in sharp, shooting, burning pain as well as tingling or numbness in the legs or arms.

Treating herniated discs without surgery

Nonsurgical treatment for symptomatic herniated discs focuses on decreasing your pain by eliminating the nerve inflammation, swelling, and irritation. Fortunately, these therapies are often quite effective at relieving your pain.

Dr. Doherty typically recommends one or two days of modified bed rest initially to give your back time to recover. It’s important, however, that you do not remain inactive longer than that. Immobility can create worsening pain as muscles, ligaments, and other structures tighten.

Other nonsurgical treatments for symptomatic herniated discs include:

If pain is preventing you from participating fully in rehab or accomplishing your daily routine, or it’s making it difficult to rest, Dr. Doherty may recommend injection-based therapy such as an epidural steroid injection to reduce inflammation and discomfort.

What if I need surgery for a herniated disc?

Based on your physical exam, diagnostic evaluation, and response to conservative treatments, Dr. Doherty may recommend a surgical procedure such as microdiscectomy to remove the problematic portion of the damaged disc. Other more extensive back surgery may be necessary for multiple disc herniations.

Whenever possible, Dr. Doherty uses minimally invasive approaches with back or neck surgery that reduce trauma to surrounding tissue and thus speed up your recovery/healing time. 

He also specializes in robotic surgery, which allows for greater precision and reduces surrounding tissue trauma even further than standard minimally invasive procedures.

Schedule an appointment at Yale Neurosurgery New London today if back pain or neck discomfort is causing you grief. 

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