Back pain is no fun, especially if it’s bad enough to interrupt your daily life or keep you from doing the things you love. If you’re worried that you may have a disc bulge and that your condition could require surgery, you’ll be happy to know that, in many cases, an operation is a last resort for many of today’s leading back doctors. Of course, your particular situation will depend on your individual set of symptoms, the treatments you have already tried, and, of course, your doctor’s skills and philosophy.
A conservative approach
Disc problems can be debilitating and irritating, but, the good news is that many people who are suffering with a bulging disc see improvement with rest and over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory medications. Those are two of the conservative treatments leading back doctors often recommend before considering anything more invasive. Others include: heat therapy, massage, physical therapy, stretching, and light activity.
Those last two can sometimes surprise patients who are suffering from the pain of a disc bulge, many of whom may think that prolonged rest makes the most sense for recovery. But, in fact, being active can help your condition, as long as the activity is low impact and your doctor signs off.
“Becoming active will help you get better faster,” said the American Academy of Family Physicians. “Begin by stretching. Bend over forward, and then bend to each side. Start these exercises after your back is a little stronger and does not hurt as much. The goal of exercise is to make your back and stomach muscles stronger. This will ease the pressure on your disc and make you hurt less.”
Avoiding more serious conditions
If you’re on the fence about getting treatment, and, especially, about the possibility of surgery for back pain, consider this: There is also evidence that those with bulging discs may be more likely to suffer from other back issues in the future, which makes getting the proper treatment even more important. A bulging disc may be painful, but it pales in comparison to spinal stenosis and cauda equina, two conditions that can develop from an untreated disc bulge.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal, which can cause painful pinched nerves. It can lead to a rare condition called cauda equina “that usually requires urgent surgical treatment,” said WebMD. “People with cauda equina syndrome often are admitted to a hospital as a medical emergency. In patients with cauda equina syndrome, something compresses on the spinal nerve roots. You may need fast treatment to prevent lasting damage leading to incontinence and possibly permanent paralysis of the legs.”
When surgery is warranted
If you have tried several conservative treatments for back pain without significant relief, it might be time to consider surgery for your disc bulge. Before you head back to your same doctor or choose one from Google, it’s important to think about current trends in medical care and how that could potentially impact your condition and recovery. Is your back doctor skilled and experienced in minimally invasive surgery? Many doctors still perform open or traditional surgeries, which can take longer, be more painful, cause more complications, and be harder to recover from.
Back care and surgery today are going the minimally invasive route, but there is still a small percentage of back doctors with the skills and experience to perform the type of surgery you want for reduced pain and a better chance at a quick and easy recovery. Be sure to research your doctor to make sure they make the grade.
A discectomy is a popular surgical procedure performed on those who are looking to end the pain of a disc bulge.
“A minimally invasive discectomy is a procedure that is performed through a very small incision less than an inch long. A small tube is placed in between the muscle fibers to preserve muscles, tendons and ligaments. Through the small tube, specialized instruments and microscopes are used to create a small window in the bone,” said DISC Spine Institute. “The nerves are gently moved to the side and the piece of disc material that is compressing the nerve is removed. This is typically only 10% of the disc. The remaining majority of the disc is left intact. This procedure involves very minimal blood loss, is done outpatient and is sutureless.”