How is a herniated disc treated without surgery?

Nonsurgical treatment is effective in treating the symptoms of herniated discs in the majority of patients. Most neck or back pain will resolve gradually with simple measures.

  • Rest and over-the-counter pain relievers may be all that is needed.
  • Muscle relaxers, analgesics, and anti-inflammatory medications are also helpful.
  • Cold compresses or ice can also be applied several times a day for no more than 20 minutes at a time.
  • After any spasms settle, gentle heat applications may be used.

Any physical activity should be slow and controlled, especially bending forward and lifting. This can help ensure that symptoms do not return, as can taking short walks and avoiding sitting for long periods. For the lower back, exercises may also be helpful in strengthening the back and abdominal muscles. For the neck, exercises or traction may also be helpful. To help avoid future episodes of pain, it is essential that you learn how to properly stand, sit, and lift.
If these nonsurgical treatment measures fail, epidural injections of a cortisone-like drug may lessen nerve irritation and allow more effective participation in physical therapy. These injections are given on an outpatient basis over a period of weeks.

How is a herniated disc treated with surgery? 

If nonsurgical treatment does not work, surgery may be recommended. 

Lumbar microdiscectomy. This is the most common procedure for a herniated disc in the lower back. Microdiscectomy involves removing the herniated part of the disc and any fragments that are putting pressure on the spinal nerve.

Cervical discectomy and fusion. Cervical discectomy is a procedure for the herniated disc in the neck. To relieve pressure, the entire herniated disc is removed. Bone is placed in the disc space and a metal plate may be used to help support the spine.