Suffering a herniated disc (also called a slipped disc or ruptured disc) may be one of the most serious injuries of your life so far. Although it is a very common injury for people 35-55 years old who are active, it does cause significant distress and disruption to life. Unfortunately, the recovery time may be longer than you expected—and the lingering pain might be the bane of your existence for a few months. What can you do to make sure that you are getting the most effective treatment to fix this temporary medical problem?
What is a herniated disc or slipped disc?
The 26 vertebrae that make up your spine are cushioned by soft, rubbery discs. They allow the spine to bend and flex while also acting as shock absorbers. Discs can experience wear and tear over time and they can be aggravated by certain activities or conditions like improper lifting, excessive body weight, smoking, sudden pressure, and repeated strenuous activities. When a cushion ruptures, you now have a condition known as a herniated disc or slipped disc.
The common symptoms of a herniated disc? It’s the lower back pain or neck pain you may be experiencing right now. The protruding disc can also inflame nerve roots and lead to sciatic nerve pain. Not treating a herniated disc can lead to permanent nerve damage that causes an array of potential complications in the future, such as losing sensation in the inner thighs and legs.
Therapies for a herniated disc or slipped disc
Our experts at Baldwin Bone and Joint recommend several types of therapies for a herniated disc, depending on the situation.
Medications and Injections – Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain medication like Tylenol or Advil for mild to moderate discomfort. If you’re suffering from more severe pain, he or she may prescribe a narcotic or anticonvulsant, to be used for a limited duration of time. Other recommended treatments might include a muscle relaxer if you are experiencing muscle spasms.
Injections – An epidural steroid injection is a quick and simple procedure that can quickly relieve pain. For the procedure, the irritated spinal nerve (caused by the protrusion of the herniated disc) is bathed in steroids, a powerful anti-inflammation medicine.
Core Strengthening – Strengthening your core is critical to keeping your spine healthy. It means relieving some of the burden your back muscles have in supporting your spine, which can result in less back pain. That could mean heading to your local Pilates or yoga studio and practicing your favorite poses. For more personal support from a trained specialist, you can participate in a lumbar stabilization program supervised by a physical therapist.
Physical Therapy – Going to physical therapy is an investment in the optimal functioning of your body. When your muscles work together effectively, they pave the way to a healthier spine that will reduce the chances of future injuries. Physical therapists can help improve your strength, flexibility, and motion by teaching you proven exercises and stretches, using proper techniques that will provide the safest possible training program. They can monitor and holistically evaluate your progress in order to determine the best combination of exercises that will help you reach optimal spine health.
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As an athlete, you know all too well that taking care of yourself is the #1 most important factor of success. No weekend warrior can win without putting his or her health first. Why let a preventable neck or back injury keep you from scaling every Kilimanjaro and all the amazing scenic trails to run?
Back and neck injuries, along with severe neck and back pain, are some of the most common issues that athletes and fitness enthusiasts face.
Common back and neck injuries
Muscles strains and ligament sprains – some of the most common injuries that can be caused by heavy training, improper techniques, insufficient stretching, and trauma.
Cracks and stress fractures in the vertebrae – often experienced by athletes who practice sports that require intense twisting or hyperextension of the spine, like gymnastics.
Stingers – injuries to the nerves around the neck and shoulder most often occurring with contact and collision sports like football. (North American Spine Society)
If you are having problems with neck injury or back injury, the physicians at Baldwin Bone and Joint can help. We are experts on sports medicine with extensive education in the musculoskeletal system, trusted by several athletic teams in the state, including the University of South Alabama Jaguars.
Injuries can put you out of commission for awhile, meaning you’ll be stuck at home instead of out and about basking in the sun, so here are a few tips from us help you prevent them:
Do this and you’ll reduce the risk of neck and back pain
1. Warm up – Loosen your joints and get your blood flowing to the muscles. A warm up session before you start your workout will help prevent injuries by improving flexibility. Since most of us are tied to sedentary 9-5 desk jobs, you’ll need to warm up your spine by moving it in ways that it’s not used to before you start exercising. It really only takes a few minutes to get your spine ready for a great workout.
2. Strengthen the core – If your abdominal muscles are weak, it means that back muscles are working extra hard to support the spine, and the extra burden can cause back pain. A stronger core will reduce the strain on back muscles and reduce the risk of back pain.
3. Make sleep a priority – Your spine needs to rest just like the rest of your body. Make sure you are getting a good eight hours of sleep every night so that you can give your neck and back some much needed time off.
4. Choose the sport that fits you best – If you have a past or ongoing issue with neck pain or back pain, you may want to consult your doctor on the best sport to play. Some sports that require intense twists or jumping (think about making a slam dunk) may not be the most ideal. Other alternatives like swimming or skiing could actually be fun and exciting, yet safe to practice.
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A spinal procedure that gets you out of the hospital faster
Every fitness lover who lives for the exhilarating highs of training for the Boston Marathon or the weekends filled with rugged adventure in unexplored terrains dreads the day when their body needs a tune up.
Back and neck pain is an incredibly common problem for people, and even the most savvy weekend warriors may not be able to escape it. When it’s gotten so serious that you may be looking at spine surgery, you’ll find out that there is a way to make it as painless as possible.
Undergoing spine surgery may seem like a scary idea, but our surgeons at the Spine Institute at Baldwin Bone and Joint want you to know that new and innovative techniques in spine surgery may be effective for you.
What is minimally invasive spine surgery vs. traditional spine surgery?
Traditional spine surgery is an “open surgery” that requires the surgeon to make a 5” to 6” incision in your back to view and access the anatomy. Spinal procedures may include laminectomy, microdiscectomy, and traditional lumbar fusion. (American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons)
In open surgery, the pulling of muscles around the area where the incision was made may cause damage to the muscles and soft tissues surrounding it. You may experience pain that’s different from the back pain you experienced before the surgery—and you may face a lengthy recovery time.
With minimally invasive spine surgery, the surgeon will use advanced technologies to make smaller incisions that cause less injury to the muscles. Because there’s less trauma to the muscles and soft tissues, it’s a technique that’s proven to be effective but also has several advantages over traditional spine surgery.
The potential benefits of minimally invasive spine surgery
- Less pain
- Less blood loss
- Less risk of infection
- Less reliance on pain medications during recovery
- Shorter recovery time
Visit The Spine Institute at Baldwin Bone and Joint to learn more about our fellowship-trained surgeons and specialized spine care team. Find out if minimally invasive spine surgery is right for you by setting up a consultation today.
The best part? You may need to have surgery, but you can get back to your awesome, active life faster than ever before.