The pain levels from a cervical disc herniation can be manageable using nonsurgical treatments. Most healthcare providers want to try a short rest period, pain medications, and physical therapy before considering surgical options to help improve your flexibility, strength, and posture. If you have a cervical disc herniation and you’re wondering what your treatment options are, read on to see both nonsurgical and surgical choices.
Nonsurgical Treatments for a Cervical Disc Herniation
This disc herniation is at its most painful during flare-ups or when it first presents. If your pain levels radiate down your arm or are severe, your doctor may advise you to modify your activity levels or have a short rest period. They could recommend that you refrain from partaking in strenuous activities, avoid specific movements, or modify how you sleep. Resting tends to help this condition become less painful.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help reduce inflammation around your herniated disc. This can reduce your pain levels because the worst pain for this problem comes from tissue and nerve root inflammation. Some of the first medications you will normally get recommended are Motrin, Advil, or Aleve, and you don’t need a prescription for them.
If you don’t get enough relief with these options, your doctor may prescribe you other short-term pain relievers. Oral steroids, muscle relaxants, and prescription-strength nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are all common. You will most likely only use these during a flare-up or for a week or two before stopping them.
Stretching and strengthening your neck can help it become more resistant to the pain you feel. Chin tucks can help you keep better posture in your neck or head. When you hold your head in a neutral alignment with the ears right above the shoulders, you’ll have less stress placed on your discs and cervical spine.
Your physical therapist can design an exercise regimen to help with your cervical disc herniation by strengthening the muscles around it to provide better support. You’ll use this routine in the office, but they can also give you exercises to do at home to get more long-term results.
If you don’t get enough pain relief from medications and physical therapy, it’s possible to get therapeutic injections. Most injections involving the neck use fluoroscopy and contrast dye to ensure the needle gets in exactly the correct position. The goal with these injections is to get the medication directly in the spot where your cervical disc herniation is to make it more effective without causing damage to the blood vessels, nerve roots, or spinal cord itself. There are two common injections, including:
- Cervical Epidural Steroid Injection - Your physician will inject your steroid solution into the outer layer of your spinal canal called the epidural space to reduce any inflammation. It’s one of the most common injections used to help treat this herniation.
- Selective Nerve Root Injection - The physician will inject an aesthetic and a steroid solution right by your spinal nerve through the intervertebral foramen. It can also help diagnose whether or not the nerve root is behind your pain levels.
Other Possible Nonsurgical Treatment Options
There are also several other easy treatments you can try if you have a cervical disc herniation. Depending on the treatment, you can do some of them right in the comfort of your own home. They include:
- Cervical Traction - Your physician will start a mechanical device to your head to gently stretch and lift your cervical spine upward. The goal is to help reduce the pressure on the nerve roots and the discs. You may or may not experience relief when you do this. If you do, you can get a home device.
- Ice or Heat Therapy - You can reduce inflammation by applying heat or ice for 15 to 20 minutes at a time to alleviate your pain. You should wait two hours between applications to avoid damaging your skin.
- Massage - Getting a gentle massage can help to increase blood flow, loosen your muscles, and help you relax.
Mindful meditation, acupuncture, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation therapy, and a few others are also available treatment methods for cervical disc herniation. You may need to do some trial and error before you find the combination that works best for your needs.
Surgical Treatment for a Cervical Disc Herniation
If you exhaust all nonsurgical options and you’re still feeling higher levels of pain, your doctor may suggest surgery to help fix it. There are a few common types of surgery you could choose, including:
Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Spine Fusion (ACDF)
This surgery is one of the most common to help treat a herniated disc in your neck. During this surgical procedure, the surgeon makes a one-inch incision in the front of the neck to remove the damaged disc. Once they remove the disc, they set the space where the disc was up so that the vertebrae above and below it will eventually fuse to form a solid piece. The surgeon may add a metal plate in front of the graft to improve the success rate and help stabilize it.
Posterior Cervical Discectomy
This surgical procedure is very similar to a posterior lumbar discectomy, and it means from the back. This could be a decent approach if your discs herniate laterally into the tunnel, where the nerve travels to leave the spinal canal. This is a more difficult approach to this surgery because the area is littered with veins that can result in bleeding. Bleeding during this surgery limits how well the surgical team can see. It also requires the surgeon to manipulate the spinal cord more to create a higher complication risk.
Contact Florida Spine Associates
Although every major surgery you have has possible complications and risks, a professional spinal surgeon can help minimize your chances of having a serious complication while relieving your pain levels. Contact Florida Spine Associates to set up a consultation today.