A prolapsed disc can be a minor inconvenience, or it can be completely debilitating. No matter which category yours falls into, it’s essential that you follow your doctor’s prolapsed disc treatment and recovery plan carefully to help prevent a reoccurrence.
The Anatomy of a Prolapsed Disc
Prolapsed discs can happen for many reasons, including injury or just due to the natural aging process. It’s not always clear what has precipitated a disc injury, but the results are often the same — pain and discomfort. Often known as a “slipped disc,” a prolapsed disc is essentially a small rupture in the outer wall of one of the rubbery discs that lie between the vertebrae in the spine. The function of the discs is to provide cushioning between the bones, flexibility along the length of the spine and protection to the spinal cord.
When a prolapsed disc occurs, the softer inner portion of the disc bulges through a weakness in the tougher outer wall. This can cause pressure or impingement of the nerve(s) in that area. In many instances, it will recede back to its original position with proper care, but sometimes further treatment and even surgery are required to correct the problem.
Prolapsed Disc Treatment Options
If you suspect or know you have a prolapsed disc, you should seek medical attention. Your primary care doctor can refer you to a specialist if he or she feels that your condition requires further care beyond what he or she can provide. If you have weakness or numbness or you are having difficulty going to the bathroom, you should go to the emergency room.
Non-Surgical Prolapsed Disc Treatment Options
In most cases, prolapsed disc treatment and recovery don’t require surgery. There are many treatment options available to address the pain and discomfort that often accompany a prolapsed disc.
Physical therapy is often recommended for prolapsed discs. It may seem counterintuitive, but in reality, it is perhaps one of the most effective ways to deal with a prolapsed disc. Not just any exercises will do, though. It’s important to work closely with a doctor to ensure that further damage isn’t done to the disc. Participating in normal activities as much as possible is also very important — the more sedentary you are, the more likely it is that the pain will worsen.
Your doctor may put you on a course of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen to help reduce the inflammation caused by your prolapsed disc. Alleviating the pain and discomfort created by the inflammation can go a long way toward aiding your overall recovery.
If the inflammation from your prolapsed disc is not responding well to NSAIDs, oral steroid medication or an epidural injection can be administered to bring about a marked anti-inflammatory response. The beauty of an epidural injection is that it allows a concentrated amount of medicine to be given to a specific area, and, therefore, it is often successful when oral steroids are not.
If your doctor feels that any of the above treatments alone or in combination will be sufficient to treat your prolapsed disc, it’s quite possible you won’t have to face surgery. You can expect to start seeing results from these treatments in as little as a few hours, depending on the severity of the disc prolapse and the amount of inflammation present. In some instances, it may take days or even a week before you see changes in your pain level. This is especially true if you are using exercise by itself.
Surgical Prolapsed Disc Treatment Options
On the flip side of the coin, you may be facing surgical intervention for your prolapsed disc. In some cases, the damage is too great and is placing too much pressure on the nerve to be relieved by the above-mentioned treatments. It may also be considered if you have recurring bouts of prolapsed disc pain at the same site.
The most effective and least invasive surgical procedure for a prolapsed disc is microdiscectomy. This procedure involves making a small incision and a short recovery time. This can be performed minimally invasively reducing postoperative pain and downtime.
A microdiscectomy can involve removing the entire disc or just a portion of it. In most cases of prolapsed discs, only the damaged portion of the disc is removed, relieving the pressure on the nerves that reside inside the spinal column.
Recovery from microdiscectomy typically takes ten weeks in total, including all physical therapy and rehab. This doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck on your stomach in bed, wondering when you’ll ever be able to get up again. It’s actually quite the opposite. It’s now recommended that you start moving around immediately after your procedure. Naturally, you’ll will have restrictions — following your doctor’s instructions will guarantee the best recovery outcome.
In the first week, you can expect to experience some pain and discomfort from your surgery. This is normal and can be treated with the appropriate pain medications. Some people have instantaneous relief from their leg pain. Others require a few weeks or longer.
As you progress through your recovery, you can start resuming your normal activities as your pain level will allow. Many surgeons don’t restrict a return to work (unless your job is strenuous), and household duties will become easier and easier to carry out.
After 6 weeks of relative rest, physical therapy is often used as a bridge back to full activity.
By the time you’ve reached the 2-3 month mark, you can expect to be fully active again. Your incision site and the underlying tissues will have healed significantly.
You don’t have to live with the debilitating pain and discomfort of a prolapsed disc. With the numerous treatment options available, you can get on the road to recovery and start living the life you want to live again.