In cases of a herniated disc in the neck, conservative treatments are usually the first course of action and are commonly used for at least six months prior to more invasive surgical therapy being suggested. Disc herniation can cause direct spinal nerve compression and irritation to the nerves by exposure to the pro-inflammatory nucleus pulposus material leaking from the disc. Where acute herniation is suspected and there is neck pain but no weakness of muscles or numbness, the use of NSAIDs and analgesics is often advised. This may allow the body to reduce the degree of nerve damage caused by the herniated disc material and help relieve pain and tenderness during the initial healing process. The application of cryotherapy (ice) can also reduce swelling and cervicalgia (neck pain), whereas heat could exacerbate the condition. Muscle relaxants may also be prescribed in some cases although these may cause the neck to become hypermobile and result in further injury or trauma to the cervical spine.
Natural Health Supplements for Herniated Disc
Natural health supplements to reduce inflammation may also be taken by many of those with a herniated disc in the neck. Fish oils provide similar benefits to many NSAIDs, and often have side-benefits rather than side-effects that can occur with the majority of pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories and analgesics. Supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin may supply some degree of anti-inflammatory action too, along with providing components of healthy tissue for the healing process. However, the intervertebral discs are avascular, meaning that those nutrients circulating in the bloodstream are unlikely to reach the discs in any great amount. Gels applied to the skin over the area of the spine where the disc has herniated are extremely unlikely to be of any benefit to the disc itself but both the gel and the oral medications may contribute to a general anti-inflammatory process in the body that encourages systemic healing.
Injections for Herniated Disk in the Neck
Direct injection of medications into the area around the disc may prove helpful in reducing inflammation, such as with epidural steroid injections administered alongside an analgesic. The complex cervical spine however, may prevent this from being a possibility in some cases of a herniated disc in the neck. Conservative treatment does not yet incorporate stem cell injections to help regenerate a herniated disc but may do in the future with a number of research trials currently investigating the possibility of culturing nucleus pulposus cells and infusing these into degenerated discs. This would then allow the body to maintain spinal stability and mobility without the need for surgery and removal of the damaged disc components, but stem cell treatments for disc herniation currently remains experimental.
Physical Therapy for Herniated Neck Disc
Conservative treatments for a herniated disc in the neck also include physical therapy in a large number of cases. Care must be taken so as not to exacerbate the condition however, as sudden movements may cause further rupture and material leakage leading to increased spinal stenosis and nerve compression. Devising a regime of stretching and strengthening neck exercises for a herniated disc should involve a qualified physical therapist and these will usually be carried out daily to help support the neck during healing and discourage further degeneration of the spine. Non-surgical spinal decompression may also be helpful as it can create a vacuum-like effect which pulls the herniated disc back into the disc space over time. There is little evidence of the efficacy of non-surgical spinal decompression however, and the treatments are often lengthy and expensive making them a poor option for many patients.
Chiropractic Treatment for Disc Herniation
Chiropractic treatment or consultation with an osteopath can provide help to patients with a herniated disc in the neck as part of conservative treatments. Guidance on correcting posture and managing pain may be given, along with physical manipulation of the limbs and the neck to realign the cervical spine. Chiropractors and osteopaths should take a full medical history prior to treatment and fully understand the patient’s individual circumstances in order to ensure that any treatment does not worsen the condition and, in a few cases, the therapy may not be recommended by the practitioner due to serious concerns over spinal stenosis and possible nerve damage. Gentle exercise such as swimming and yoga are also helpful to many but possibly harmful to others and those with a herniated disc in the neck should discuss such exercises with their physician before commencing.
Medical Devices for Herniated Disc in the Neck
Neck support pillows, soft cervical collars, and other support devices may be helpful for some patients in the short term but it is important for patients to restrict their use in line with physicians’ advice in order to prevent the weakening of the neck muscles and an increased risk of further injury and degeneration of the cervical spine. For the majority of patients with a herniated disc in the neck, conservative treatments lead to a reduction in neck pain, healing of the disc, or effective inhibition of the progression of spinal stenosis in the area. Unfortunately for others with a herniated disc in the neck, conservative treatments may prove unsuccessful, making surgery the only option to relieve neck pain.