Herniated disc

The following comments are general and do not apply to everyone’s situation. Your situation can only be assessed by a competent health professional.

The General principles apply to cervical/neck and lumbar disc issues, compression issues, and other spinal complaints.

Do not have surgery until you have read this!!!!

PAIN CONTROL:

It is the primary motivator for people seeking treatment for back complaints.

Herniated discs are very painful, and those with this condition often seek any solution to alleviate their pain, and when desperate, surgery often seems like the best solution.  Unfortunately, life is not so simple. While surgery can help in some cases,  it can also cause further problems down the road, such as damaged nerves or scar tissue – and this can lead to drug dependency to manage the ongoing residual pain.

Recent research has shown that surgery may be counterproductive, and results show that those who do not have surgery often have better long term outcomes than those who do.

 Surgery is an irreversible procedure. Research shows that Opioids and Nonsteroidal drugs, like Ibuprofen, are not effective long term and can slow the healing process. These drugs can cause other problems such as heart attacks, kidney and liver disorders and have been linked to early-onset dementia. Research has shown opioids and opioid-like medication can worsen the pain over time.

For safe, effective pain control, I  recommend Acupuncture and Herbal Supplements as the best natural options for treating pain.

Specialized Distal Needling Acupuncture ( DNA), in particular, has had an outstanding record in reducing pain levels.  Treatment must be engaged regularly and as soon as possible after sustaining an injury. Having DNA every,  or every second day is best for good results. DNA interferes with nerve loop feedback mechanisms that keep the pain receptors stimulated, and it reduces nerve stimulation. DNA is called Distal Needling Acupuncture as the arms and legs are the preferred areas to be needled and not the local area of damage. DNA is more effective than dry needling for this purpose and is a specialised treatment.  Although all Acupuncturists claim to treat pain, not all do DNA, so shop around to find out who does or phone me for contacts.

REDUCE PAIN AND INFLAMMATION 

With pain goes inflammation and vice versa, so a supplement pain management needs to be commenced immediately for any disc problems.  I realise that Pharmaceuticals are required for acute pain, but supplements are better for long-lasting results.

I  suggest that the following supplement formulas be taken in large doses together with each other and are available on health food store shelves –

  • Fusion Curcumin Advanced –  2 caps x twice a day or more as adult dose OR
  • Ethical Nutrients Triple Strength Pain Relief  2×2 or more – ( this is, in my opinion, the best formula on the Australian Market plus – PLUS
  • Fusion Pain and inflammation formula- 2 caps x twice a day or more as adult dose -PLUS
  •  Herbs of Gold PEA -(Palmitoylethanolamide) as directed max dose ( preferably with Quercetin for enhanced effect ) -PLUS
  • Herbs of Gold or Ethical nutrients  Magnesium powder – twice a day as directed

The rationale for use: PEA mimics the effect of CBD oil on the ecocannaboid receptors in the body, which help to modulate pain. Curcumin and Boswellia modulate pain pathways such as the Cox -2 and 5-Lox pathways, White Willow found in some pain formulas mimics the effects of AspIrin without the side effects; magnesium is a muscle relaxant.

Take supplements   2 hours away from pharmaceuticals to minimise interference. Work up to high doses. Minimal doses will not usually produce a result.

Why take them when you are taking pharmaceuticals ??  Answer: they work better to heal the discs; there are generally no side effects, and there is more effective pain control if taken for long enough (e.g. more than 12  weeks ). Studies have shown the long term use of Natural Anti-inflammatories to be more effective than pharmaceuticals.  ( based on 12-week studies ) .

Reducing inflammation is critical, and not only does reduce it allow the body to heal, but it’s much easier to do the other treatments when your pain has decreased.

So if using pharmaceuticals, you may reduce your pharmaceutical medicines once pain relief is received. Pharmaceuticals may interfere with the effectiveness of acupuncture treatments and this process is not quite understood at the moment. Reducing dependence is essential to ensure better Acupuncture and natural pain relief outcomes.

 REBUILDING :

Keywords are nutrients and Microcirculation. After pain and inflammation are controlled, which may take some time, you can reduce the dose of the pain and inflammation supplements and just keep on with minimum doses to keep pain under control.

Other supplements like high dose fish oil and Grape seed extract ( to improve Microcirculation) may now be added. I would recommend 7.5ml of high-quality fish oil twice a day for its anti-inflammatory effect and Grape seed extract as directed. Anthenogel brand is a good one to look at, although expensive. The best product in my opinion is Mediherb’s Tissue Regenex formula that is available from Practitioners, which helps to improve Microcirculation to the affected body area.

Taking Blackmores Bio disc – take max dose daily  -would be good to add to the program now as this formula supplies essential nutrients for healing discs in an all in one tablet if that is more convenient.

Pain indicates inflammation,  so some people may find that they need to be on natural anti-inflammatories for some time if not years. There is usually no side effects and most natural products can be used indefinitely.  Discs can take anywhere from  6 months to two years to heal, depending on their severity and how quickly the body heals.  The more supplements that are consumed, the quicker the results for healing as these nutrients are required for the regeneration of the disc. Regeneration of the disc will be slow if there is inflammation present and pharmaceuticals are used. Healing is all about nutrients and Microcirculation! 

TIP1: Better to take some supplements in large doses, than a lot of supplements in small amounts. Note this statement. Many get on the internet and look for a magic formula or supplement and find they need to supplement low doses due to the cost of the supplements.

This is a big mistake! Results are not forthcoming with low doses of supplements or cheap brands.

If pain is the issue, concentrate on supplements for that –once the pain is better, swap your program to the rebuilding phase later. This may take time, so please be patient!

As mentioned before, pharmaceutical medication is ok in the initial stages of treating a painful, inflamed disc problem.  Prolonged use will slow the healing process as pharmaceuticals retard the healing biochemical pathways used by the body to heal itself. Yes, that is right, painkillers do just that, kill pain, but do nothing for rebuilding the metabolic pathways to help with nourishing the tissues. Only natural supplements and Microcirculation can do that.

Special note on spinal spurs: if not too large, then Silicia and Vit K are specific for this issue as Silica, together with Vit K,  helps to remodel bone.  Having an alkaline diet  ( 80% veg and fruit ) is critical for these abnormal calcium issues.

TIP 2– Note on supplements.  If your natural health practitioner is selling you a product for, say, $40, and you find a similar one on the internet at $25 – please ask the question, “what’s the catch”, is it the same  ?? Same strength? Same product?

The catch is that it is not usually the same high-quality product and hence a waste of time for effective results. If the product is precisely the same ok buy it!  Beware of false claims on the internet or “magic products that will reduce your pain”. Usually, they are ineffective and not backed by sound research. All of the products mentioned in this article have good research and clinical efficacy to support their use. Support your local health food store – sign up for their frequent user program and save!

BODYWORK THERAPIES  

It is good to have active exercise therapy in treating or maintaining, and it is good to have passive therapy as well. Active Therapies are work that you do, such as remedial exercises, whereas Passive therapy is about having something done to you to help rebuild.  Although Acupuncture is suitable for pain, it does not affect the structure, so some passive structural work is required to take the pressure off discs and the surrounding areas.  Various bodywork therapies are helpful here, and in my opinion, here are some of the best for treating this condition passively are  –

  1. Craniosacral Therapy  ( CST )
  2. Myofascial Release Therapy  ( MFR) – very specific
  3. Osteopathy
  4. Structural Acupressure Therapy

Structural balancing is the key approach that is the best for treating these conditions as they go to the core of why they started in the first place.

I recommend avoiding massage therapists or any bodyworker that is brutal in their approach, i.e. “no pain, no gain” approach.  Chinese or Thai massage therapy is vigorous therapy that could make your condition worse! The main thing is to have gentle, but effective therapies to help alleviate pain and balance body structures. Practitioners who do the above modalities, as numbered,  are high skill practitioners with years of training, and they know how to work with the body and what it requires to improve structural alignment.

A nurturing approach is recommended and bodywork that works with your body –not on your body!

 Oil-based rub massage may feel good and are suitable for stress relief but, in my opinion, are not as good as the others mentioned for treating this condition as the key is to correct fascial and structural imbalances.

If you are in pain, then your body is not Healing!   Microcirculation is reduced when the body is in pain so any therapy that reduces pain is a good thing. When your body is out of pain then the circulation to that body part increases – hence promoting the healing of that body part.

A  herniated disc “myth” is that the herniated disc is causing pain. While the pain may be caused by a herniated disc, it can also be something else like a hyper irritated nerve. In fact, MRI analysis of people without pain, many were shown to have herniated discs.

The point is, if you have a herniated disc, try all or some of these treatments,  preferably in stages,  individually,  so you know what works for you, but don’t be surprised if the disc doesn’t cause the pain.  Spinal manipulations should be avoided when trying to heal discs, as this does not treat the problem’s root cause.

MUSCLE BALANCE THERAPY – Active 

This is top of the list of things to look at after addressing the pain issues because it focuses on eliminating the underlying cause of the problem. Remember this; something caused the disc to herniate in the first place. and that was usually years of uneven compression and torsion because of muscle imbalances.  ( this  is typically the case, but I realise  some disc problems  are due to trauma, accidents, etc.) Other causes may be long term nutritional deficiencies that affect connective tissue.

The best Active muscle balance therapy may be a combination of  Pilates work and specific exercises to strengthen weak muscles. This can be done after having some structural work or when the pain eases to a level where you can do some activities.   Pilates is best here while the disc is regenerating as Pilates can move joints through a full range of motion without compressing tissues.  Going to a Professional Pilates instructor is highly recommended. Mackenzie technique as taught by a physiotherapist or Feldenkrais technique would also be helpful here and is worth checking out.

Although I am a fan of yoga, yoga in this stage can severely aggravate the problem.  Similarly, be wary of Personal Trainers who “can work around the problem” unless the PT’s are Pilates or rehab specialists.  Specific Weight training can be done but maybe counterproductive as one needs to focus on the structural rebalancing of muscle groups as a priority.

In my experience, professional and experienced Physio/ Pilates instructors are the best for rehab in the initial stages of rehabilitation, and therapy should be commenced after having an interview with the therapist for their opinion. I  recommend one-on-one personal sessions with a qualified and experienced Pilates instructor who just does Pilates for a living and has a passion for the art? Classes may be done later but a specific Pilates and or muscle balancing program must be undertaken for each individual, as what caused your problem will be different from others.

Ask the instructor for some simple home-based exercises that can be done that can help alleviate stress on the discs and are helpful for pain control.  In my opinion, compliance with home exercises are poor, and many lack the motivation to continue exercises week after week. To create balance in the body may take some time to correct, so weekly or personal instruction is helpful and will help keep the motivation going.

Conversely, just attending classes or personal instruction without doing exercises at home will not bring the desired results. One needs to build up a home-based program, even if it is just 10 minutes a day.

Since discs can take up to two years or more to repair, so patience is required and just doing one Pilates session a week for a few weeks is not going to give you enough time to change to tissue and muscles. Try 6-12 months of Pilates before you make up your opinion as to whether this is working for you. I went to Pilates classes for two years before saying that I was back in shape after my herniated disc problem. It took that long to repair and cost me a fortune – but it was worth it – not going under the knife! Yes, I was in agony like anyone else at the beginning, so I know what it is all about !! I still do daily home exercises to keep things under control.

If you have had a discectomy, i.e. a disk repaired or removed, the same rules apply. The problem with surgery is that the affected area becomes less mobile as vertebrae fuse and tissues consolidate. An analogy here “this means that there is a permanent kink in the rubber hose. The shock load is no longer evenly distributed through the spinal segments, which suggest there will now be excessive loading in other areas, which in time can lead to pressure on those discs and vertebrae.

An example is if L4/L5 is affected, the neck vertebrae can go out of balance, and the hips similarly so due to compensation. It is a well-known fact amongst professionals that those who have had surgery are prone to having problems occur elsewhere at a later stage.

The key is to prevent excessive loading and compensation to other areas, and potentially causing disc problems, is to maintain flexibility and balance.  The latest research shows that although one needs some core strength, muscle balance and function determine how stress loads to the back are determined.  Ongoing Pilates and other exercise combinations may be helpful here for maintenance once the disc has healed. Since no one exercise therapy suits all, then one may need to try a variety of approaches. For example, tai chi is beneficial for healing some back problems where other exercises may be a problem. Tai chi or Qigong exercises are generally very gentle and can be a  great addition to prescriptive exercises for health maintenance.

 TIP 2- While we are on the subject of balance, it is always good to have a foot/gait analysis done by a podiatrist.  Lower limb biomechanical problems can lead to significant imbalances in tissues and affect the skeletal system. Similar leg length discrepancies will have a significant effect on the spine and neck. For anyone who has chronic back problems, then the Podiatrist should be first on the list to be consulted.

Hydrotherapy is very helpful in maintaining mobility and may be beneficial in combination with everything else, especially in the initial stages of rehabilitation while doing prescriptive exercises. Physiotherapist advice is useful here.

The expert in this area of prescriptive exercise is the Professor Emeritus of Spinal Biomechanics at Waterloo University in Canada,-  Dr Stuart McGill. His website is http://www.backfitpro.com. He is a renowned expert in this field, and we can thoroughly recommend his DVD’s and downloads. For a look at what he is up to, go to U-tube for some video clips. His book for the layperson -Back Mechanic, is one of the best reads on back pain and worth the price! 

Example programs from his book include – Plank pose /hovers, Side bridges, bird dogs – google these and look at the pictures. I recommend not do these without supervision if you have a disc problem as they need to be done precisely; otherwise, they may aggravate.

DECOMPRESSION 

You may need to reduce the amount of compression placed on the discs by increasing the space between the vertebrae, and you can accomplish this with inversion therapy and other forms of decompression.

Decompression therapy works best when it’s combined with targeted stretches and exercises. The reason is, without them the tight muscles of the torso and along with the spine limit, the amount of improvement you can achieve, and they also tend to pull tight again. So you’ll want to do the
The proper stretches and exercises, based on the muscle imbalances you have before and after inversion or other decompression.

An inversion bed is used for decompression and is found at a lot of physiotherapists and Pilates clinics.  Please do not try to do inversion at home without supervision.  Getting stuck in an inversion machine is not much fun and getting out the wrong way can make your situation worse and can cause further damage to discs.

DIETARY CHANGES 

While it may not seem like a “treatment”, it can work wonders. Nutrition plays a vital part in healing a herniated disc by supplying essential nutrients to tissues and joints. Fruits and Vegetables contain minerals like calcium, Silica, and magnesium are necessary for disc repair.

Most people don’t get enough of these nutrients required for optimal health. Poor nutrition and nutritional deficiencies can prevent your body from healing, whether it’s a herniated disc or any other condition/disease.

A big myth about herniated discs is that once you have one, the only thing that can be done is surgery.  Nothing could be further from the truth! Numerous research studies have shown that herniated discs can heal themselves… imagine that,the human body healing itself!

An anti-inflammatory diet/ or Alkaline diet is recommended with lots of fruit and vegetables ( especially blueberries, cherries and raspberries etc  )  and small amounts of protein with each meal.  Generally on the plate should be 80% veg or fruit and 20% protein. Carbohydrates such as all sugars and white products – bread, white rice, potatoes etc, promote the inflammatory process and slow the healing process. Red meats are to be avoided as well as they contribute to the inflammatory process. Such a diet is high in nutrient rick polyphenols that promote an anti-inflammatory effect.

If you do not suffer from “Heat issues” or bowel complaints then having a diet rich in Chillies that increase circulation in the body may help. You will need to eat chilli rich meals for at least two weeks to see the difference. Winter is the best time to try this out – If you do not like Chillies then have lots of ginger tea during the day as ginger is anti-inflammatory and improves circulation.

MIND-BODY TECHNIQUES

Tons of research has also been done on this subject as well and all of it shows that your mental state; your emotions, feelings, attitude and beliefs determine whether you are healthy or sick and whether your body heals or whether it stays in a constant breakdown.

Learn how to use the incredible power of your mind to not only reduce the amount of pain you feel but to also ensure you DO heal.

Meditation or Hypnosis is very useful here as it may take months to years to repair discs, and if one is in a lot of pain then frustration can set in. This adds to stress, which in turn can lead to depression and thus impedes the healing process. Meditation once learnt is free so is a great option to be part of the pain control therapy mix.

Stress impedes the healing process, so the more profoundly relaxed one is, the quicker the healing will take place.  Prolonged pain is a major stressor and needs to be dealt with as primary importance. Prolonged pain is a major driver for people to have surgery even though surgery has major problems associated with it. If you are in pain you get desperate and try anything to help – this is a dangerous place to be as desperation does not beget clear thinking!

If you are on painkilling drugs, remember they retard the healing process so body-mind techniques are beneficial here to control the pain. In fact, in writing this, this may be the best place to start for some who get easily frustrated, want quick results and are impatient. I understand the pain from either the lumbar or neck can be terrible, leading to one making poor decisions. So for some  Hypnosis or meditation makes a lot of sense.

HEAT 

I know, I know… you’ve used heat before. But most people don’t know
How effective the use of heat is. Heat increases Microcirculation which is essential for healing

The heat helps in numerous ways, but most people underutilise it or only use it temporarily, and then they stop. To get the most from heat, use it for 15 minutes, apply it several times per day and continuously.

In addition to using heat with a heating pad, you can get the benefits of using a hot bath, hot tub or sauna if available.

Heat can also be administered by a Chinese” Moxa stick “, which can give dramatic pain relief to chronically affected patients.  These are available from Chinese grocer stores or on the internet. Get someone in the family to treat you for five days straight for 10 minutes on the affected joint and notice the difference!!  You can see how to use the moxa sticks on  U tube videos. Heat is recommended, but not if there is acute pain or swelling with inflammation or you have just been injured. It is suggested for chronic,  low-grade inflammation states with you for some time, especially for neuralgic type pain.

MAGNETS

Are available that can be placed on the area affected and can increase Microcirculation and promote the healing effect.  The Northside is used for acute pain and the Southside for chronic pain ( long term use  .)

Some people find that magnets are “magic” in the healing effects, so they are worth having a go.  Here is the best website to go to for magnets http://www.qmagnets.com/

Q magnets are not cheap, but they are the best, and we endorse these types of magnets for use with any musculoskeletal conditions.  Just ring or e-mail these people and mention your situation to advise you on the best approach. Do not be sceptical –they do work, and if you have a badly herniated disc, I would suggest this could be one of the best investments you can make.

Sorry but cheaper pharmacy purchased magnets will not do the job and are generally not strong enough.

Remember, surgery is to be avoided at all costs due to complications. Most researchers, and those who do not have a vested interest in surgery, have found that there is no difference in outcomes over a period of time between those who have had surgery to those who have not!  Indeed research seems to indicate that it is better not to have surgery for the best outcomes! We have known of people who have had back surgery that has failed and then to be placed on morphine derivative medication for the rest of their life or invalided out of a job due to their situation. Remember, when surgery is done, it cannot be undone!

Suppose you have had surgery and are reading this and are still in pain. In that case, participating in a treatment program will keep you mobile and at least prevent further surgery or complications from occurring.   I realise that in writing this article that some have been in accidents, and disc removal/surgery was unavoidable to prevent further damage.  I  empathise with your situation and trust this article is of interest to help you maintain your health in the long term and prevent further deterioration.

For further professional advice, please contact me below

Peter Farnsworth N.D

0438584123

www.adelaidenaturopath.net.au

updated 3/1/21