How can you alleviate herniated disc pain for good? Why is disc pain recurrent and chronic? What is the answer to long-term herniated disc symptoms? These are all variations on a common question that we receive on a daily basis at The Cure Back Pain Network. We try to continually answer these questions in our writings and patient interactions, but sometimes, people just want a direct answer that gets right to the point. To this end, we dedicate this article to providing all the information most patients need to get themselves on the right path towards successful treatment. We will not be providing some sort of "miraculous" universally-applicable answer, but instead will pose some questions of our own to help you to collectively help yourselves.
Enjoy this essay and use the valuable information contained herein to facilitate the best chances for a true and lasting cure for your severe spinal disc pain.
The first step in truly alleviating any type of treatment-resistant pain, such as the type commonly associated with intervertebral herniations, is to be sure that the diagnosis is correct. Most back and neck pain sufferers have no idea that the number one problem in the treatment industry is misdiagnosis and that they stand a very good chance of being misdiagnosed themselves. This is a basic fact.
Now when we tell people this information, they often contest it; citing evidence that they have seen "with their own eyes" which shows conclusively that they have a herniated disc. They often tell us that they have undergone medical imaging and have the CT scan or MRI films as proof that they have a herniated disc. Well, this fact is not in dispute. It is obvious that so many patients misunderstand our words and our meaning. We know that you have herniated discs. We have them too and so does your doctor. We know that you have disc irregularities before you even had your imaging performed, since disc abnormalities are extremely commonplace and are virtually universal in adults. We are never disputing that the herniations are present. We are merely telling you a fact that they are not likely to be the source of your pain.
It is well known in medical circles that atypical structure almost never predicts pain. Furthermore, the common incidence of herniations makes them difficult to even consider atypical, since they are actually quite typical in humans. I have 12 of them, which is more than half of the total discs in my spine. There are absolutely no studies that show definitive evidence of universal pathology in herniated discs, regardless of how structurally significant they might be. To simplify this idea in order to make it easily digestible, herniated discs exist in almost everyone, but there is no proof that they cause pain in most people.
Herniations can be painful, but are not inherently so. Studies show that the vast majority of all herniations do not cause any severe or lasting symptoms at all. Those which are symptomatic will usually resolve without any treatment necessary, in a short timeline. So, you still want to alleviate your herniated disc pain? Then you better be sure that you are treating the right condition or you will surely be wasting your time, energy and money. The absolutely terrible treatment statistics reported by most disc pain patients support of all these truths 100%.
Let’s talk a bit about how herniated discs can cause pain in order to help you to ascertain if your diagnosis makes sense and if the treatments being used are logical and indicated:
Bulging discs can create pain only if they compress a neurological tissue, such as a nerve root or the actual spinal cord. Bulging discs will rarely compress the spinal cord, unless there is already considerable and permanent stenosis present at the bulging level, such as that created by arthritic accumulations in the central canal space. A bulging disc alone will rarely be capable of compressing such a large and robust structure. Nerve roots are far smaller and exit through much tighter openings. Therefore, it is more probable for a bulging disc of the posterolateral variety to compress a single nerve root within the foraminal space or for a far lateral herniation to compress a single nerve root after it has exited the foraminal opening.
Ruptured discs add the possibility for symptomatic expression due to chemical irritation of a nerve. This is called chemical radiculitis. However, chemical radiculitis is a controversial diagnosis, since only some patients seem to be susceptible to it, despite many patients showing exactly the same structural conditions. It has been theorized that some peoples’ nerves are more susceptible to the chemical irritant called tumor necrosis factor alpha, while others do not seem to demonstrate symptoms, despite nucleus proteins being widely dispersed throughout the localized neurological anatomy.
Therefore, it is vital to understand which mechanism is deemed responsible for producing symptoms and then do everything to either prove that the process is indeed occurring or disprove it as a misdiagnosed conclusion. In most patients, evidence will be sadly lacking linking the herniated disc to any pathological and pain-producing process. We have seen this in hundreds of thousands of patients over the past 15 years.
If a herniated disc is truly the cause of your pain, then you must find a therapy that will address the structural issues in order to find a cure. This strategic move will disqualify any type of symptom-targeting treatment, since none of these therapies will cure the structural issues involved in the origin of pain. If you eliminate the symptomatic treatments, then you are left with precious few choices to select from:
Nonsurgical spinal decompression might successfully cure bulging discs that are intact and theorized to be creating pain through structural compression of the spinal cord or nerve roots. Since spinal decompression is noninvasive, it should be a major consideration for all patients with indicated conditions. Some chiropractors claim that particular types of spinal adjustments, such as Cox Technique, can help to permanently resolve herniated discs. Objective studies demonstrating positive outcomes are fewer and further between than for computer-controlled spinal decompression, but this is a possible path for patients to consider, especially if they do not have access to modern spinal decompression or can not afford it. Once again, this treatment path is indicated for intact bulging discs.
Chemical radiculitis sufferers stand very good chance of relieving their pain with one or more injections that can flush away the irritating nucleus proteins that are causing pain from contact with nerve fibers. It is true that the body will eventually neutralize and absorb spilled nucleus proteins, but flushing injections can move the process along dramatically.
Herniated disc surgery is the most common curative treatment path. Surgery is a double-edged sword, since it does provide the hope for a lasting cure, but rarely lives up to its promises. Minimally-invasive disc surgery, such as IDET and nucleoplasty, work well for many patients and are perfect when an intact bulging disc is theorized to be compressing a neurological tissue. Some doctors even use variations of IDET to seal ruptured discs and stop the flow of irritating proteins into the nearby spinal anatomy. More invasive discectomy can cure problematic discs of all types, but unfortunately has the distinction of failing more than any other spinal operation. Many discectomy patients suffer similar or worse pain postoperatively. However, the majority of people who undergo these procedures are misdiagnosed and do not require surgery, or any physical treatment, since their discs are not the source of their pain.
Take time and spend effort when navigating the herniated disc diagnosis and treatment sectors. Only through knowledge and understanding will you be able to improve your chances for pain relief and minimize the risk of even worse fates occurring during or after treatment. Remember, many postoperative patients become disabled due to their surgery, when all along their disc "problem" was never the real problem at all.