The following comments are of a general nature and do not apply to everyone’s personal 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.
Please Do not have surgery until you have read this!!!!
- Pain Control
- Rebuild Injured tissue and discs
- Specific Body Therapies
- Specific Exercises
- Body-mind techniques
- Heat and Magnets
This is the major motivator for people seeking treatment for back complaints and needs to be addressed first. In reading the article, this information can be applied to other injuries as well.
Herniated discs are very painful, and those with this condition often seek any solution to alleviate their pain 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 opioid or another drug dependency to manage the residual pain. Recent research has shown that surgery may be counterproductive, and results show that those who do not have surgery have better long-term outcomes than those who do.
Surgery is an irreversible procedure. Research evidence shows that Opioids and Nonsteroidal Drugs do not work long-term and can retard the healing process. These drugs can cause other problems, such as heart attacks /kidney and liver disorders and have also been linked to early-onset dementia. Research has shown opioids and opioid-like medication, although useful short term, can make the pain worse over time, and there is no evidence for long-term use.
Pain control consists of two sections – applied therapies and pharmaceuticals/ ingestive supplements.
External Applied Therapies :
For safe, effective pain control, Acupuncture or dry needling as the best treatment option. Specialized Distal Needling Acupuncture ( DNA) has had a very good record in reducing pain levels. They must be engaged regularly and as soon as possible after sustaining the injury. Having DNA every day or every second day is best for good results. DNA interferes with nerve loop feedback mechanisms that keep the pain receptors stimulated. It reduces nerve stimulation. DNA is called Distal, 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. Although all Acupuncturists claim to treat pain, not all do DNA, so shop around to find out who does or contact me for details.
Other forms of Acupuncture, such as Ear Acupuncture and Abdominal acupuncture, have also had a good track record as well. Abdominal acupuncture may sound strange, but in actual fact, it is painless and effective. Most clients like this type of therapy.
Internal Ingestive Therapies :
Appropriate pharmaceuticals are generally employed to control pain, and although they will give some immediate relief, their use may retard the healing process over time. Studies have. Shown that specific natural supplements can give better relief over time without the side effects and problems associated with Non-steroidal therapy or Steroid Therapy.
Natural Supplements, in the main, can be taken at the same time as pharmaceuticals for better effect.
The following supplement formulas can be taken in large doses together with each other and are available on health food store shelves –
- Herbs of Gold PEA -(Palmitoylethanolamide) as directed max dose. PEA modulates the body’s endogenous eco-cannabinoid system. Max dose is required for this to be effective.
- Fusion Curcumin Advanced – 2 caps x twice a day or more as adult dose with
- Fusion Pain and inflammation formula- 2 caps x twice a day or more adult dose
- Herbs of Gold or Ethical nutrients Magnesium powder – twice a day as directed if muscle spasms are an issue.
The first three supplements are best taken together in divided doses throughout the day.
Take supplements 2 hours away from pharmaceuticals to minimize 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 control pain and inflammation. There are generally no side effects, and there is more effective pain control if taken for long enough. 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; reducing it allows the body to heal, and it’s much easier to do the other treatments when your pain has decreased.
If using pharmaceuticals, you may reduce your pharmaceutical medicines once pain relief is received. Pharmaceuticals interfere with Acupuncture treatments and dry needling in a way that is not properly understood, so reducing dependence is important to ensure Acupuncture effectiveness.
Cannabis or Industrial Hemp oil may be useful for pain; however, for most people, it does not confer any magic benefits over the supplements already listed and is very expensive. PEA is considered the best supplement for pain and mimics the effect of cannabis.
Practitioner supplements may be stronger and more effective than retail so make inquiries to your health professional for advice.
Essential principles are – increasing microcirculation and providing essential nutrients.
Rebuilding damaged tissues and discs should be undertaken after pain and inflammation are controlled; then you can reduce the dose of the pain and inflammation supplements and keep on with minimum doses to keep pain under control. You may have good days where you can reduce the dose or bad days where you may need to increase the dose.
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 on the market, however, is Mediherb’s Tissue Regenex formula which is available from Practitioners and helps to improve microcirculation in the body at an affordable price. This product is unique because it contains, Grapeseed extract, ginkgo Biloba and Gotu kola, a proven combination for tissue healing.
Taking Blackmores Bio disc -would be good to add to the program now as this formula supplies essential nutrients for healing discs in an all-in-one tablet with minerals for disc healing.
Another supplement that could be added to the list is -Bovine Collagen Amino peptides for bone health.
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!
Better to take some supplements in large doses than many supplements in small doses. Note this statement. Many get on the internet and look for a magic formula or supplement and find they need to supplement in low doses due to the cost of the supplements.
This is a big mistake! Results will not be forthcoming with low doses of supplements or cheap brands. For advice contact me for details.
Special note on spinal spurs: if not too large, then Silica 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 here for these abnormal calcium issues.
One final note on supplements- If your natural health practitioner is selling you a product for say, $50 and you find a similar one on the internet at $35 – please ask the question, “what’s the catch” is it the same ?? Same strength? Same product?
The catch is that, is that if it is not the same high-quality product and then it may be a waste of time for effective results. If the product is exactly 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 good research. All of the products mentioned in this article have good research and clinical efficacy to support their use.
In treating or maintaining it is good to have active exercise therapy, 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 good for pain, it does not affect the structure, so passive structural work is required to take the pressure off of discs and the surrounding areas. Various bodywork therapies are useful. Here are some of the best for treating this condition passively for structure is –
- Craniosacral Therapy
- Myofascial Release Therapy
Structural balancing is the key approach is the best overall for treating these conditions as they go to the core of why they started in the first place. More notes on structural balancing are below.
Gentle but effective therapies will help to alleviate pain and to balance body structures. Practitioners who do the above modalities are high-skill practitioners with years of training. They know how to work with the body and what it requires to move to better function.
Aggressive therapies will not work in the long term for treating your condition. You need a nurturing approach and bodywork that works with your body –not on your body. Oil-based rub massages may feel good and are good 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. You may feel good after the massage but will not gain anything.
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 good. When your body is out of pain, then the circulation to that body part increases – hence promoting the healing of that body part.
Also, one more herniated disc “myth” is that the herniated disc is causing pain. While a herniated disc may cause pain, it can also be something else, like a hyper-irritated nerve.
In fact, in 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.
MUSCLE BALANCE THERAPY
This is the top of the list of things to look at after the pain issues are resolved or diminished 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 usually 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 muscle balance therapy is Pilates as it 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 useful.
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 PTs are Pilates or rehab specialists. Weight training can be done but may be counterproductive as one needs to focus on the structural rebalancing of muscle groups.
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 as soon as possible after initial diagnostics and when the pain has diminished somewhat. I recommend initially a number of one-on-one personal sessions with a qualified and experienced Pilate’s instructor that 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 than others.
Ask the instructor for some simple home-based exercises that can be done that can help alleviate stress on the discs and be useful for pain control. In my opinion, compliance with home exercises is poor, and many lack the motivation to continue exercises week after week. Creating balance in the body may take some time to correct, so weekly or personal instruction is useful and will help keep the motivation going.
Conversely, attending classes or personal instruction without doing exercises at home will not produce 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, patience is required, and just doing one Pilates session a week for a few weeks is not really giving the system a go to affect changes 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 I could say 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 then 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 “means that there is a permanent kink in the rubber hose. The shock load is no longer evenly distributed through the spinal segments, which means 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 as well as the hips as a reflective reaction.
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 ( sorry I do not want to sound pessimistic but need to illustrate the need for prevention)
The key is to preventing excessive loading to other areas and potentially causing disc problems is to maintain flexibility and develop the core muscle groups but not a “six-pack”. The latest research shows that although one needs some core strength, it is muscle balance and function that determines how stress loads to the back are determined. Ongoing Pilates and other exercise combinations may be useful here for maintenance once the disc has healed. Since there is no one exercise therapy that suits all, then one may need to try a variety of approaches. For example, tai chi is very useful 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.
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 major imbalances in tissues and affect the skeletal system. Leg length discrepancies will majorly affect the spine and neck .and are a major factor in the lower back and hip issues.
Hydrotherapy. This is very helpful in maintaining mobility and may be useful in combination with everything else, especially in the initial stages of rehabilitation. A physiotherapist’s 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 I can thoroughly recommend his DVDs and downloads. To 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, and bird dogs;- google these and have a look at the pictures. Do not do these without supervision or advice, as they need to be done in an exact manner; otherwise, they may cause issues.
While it may not seem like a “treatment”, it can work wonders. Many fail to recognise the importance nutrition plays in Healing a herniated disc by supplying nutrition to tissues and joints. Fruits and Vegetables contain minerals like calcium, silica and magnesium that a critical for disc repair.
Most people don’t get enough of the nutrients necessary for optimal health, and nutritional deficiencies can prevent your body from healing, whether it’s a herniated disc or any other condition/disease.
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. Protein should be consumed adequately to one’s age as the amino acids are used to build cartilage and tissues. A low glycaemic index diet is required as excess carbohydrates promote the inflammatory process and retard the healing process. As mentioned, avoid all sugars and white products ( bread, white rice, potatoes etc .) .
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, have lots of ginger tea during the day as ginger is anti-inflammatory and improves circulation.
MIND BODY TECNIQUES
Again, another one that is always underestimated is the role the mind or mental state has on pain and the body’s ability to heal.
Tons of research has also been done on this subject, 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 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 and ensure you DO heal.
Meditation or Hypnosis is useful as it may take months to years to repair discs, and if one is in much pain, frustration can set in. This adds to stress, which in turn can lead to depression and retards the healing process. Both have had research to show their effectiveness in helping to control chronic pain.
In general, stress impedes the healing process, so the more deeply relaxed one is, the quicker the healing will take place. Prolonged pain is a major stressor and needs to be dealt with as a 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!
HEAT and MAGNETS
Heat increases Microcirculation which is essential for healing.
The heat helps in numerous ways, by increasing microcirculation which can provide some pain relief as well as bringing blood and its vital nutrients to the area affected.
To get the most from heat, use it for 15 minutes at a time, apply it several times per day and continuously provided the area is not inflamed. Heat bags that are sold in Pharmacies and like which can be warmed up in microwave ovens are a convenient way of applying heat.
Heat can also be administered by a Chinese ”Moxa stick “, which can give dramatic pain relief to those who are chronically affected. These are available from Chinese grocery stores or on the internet. See U tube for a demonstration of how to use various types. Get someone in the family to treat you for 5 days straight for 10 minutes on the affected joint and notice the difference!!
.Heat is indicated, but not if there is acute pain or inflammation or where you have just been injured. It is indicated for chronic, low inflammation states that have been with you for some time. Especially for neuralgic-type pain. Moxa therapy is very common in the East and is often considered a superior therapy to acupuncture for chronic conditions.
Are available that can be placed on the area affected and can increase microcirculation and hence promote the healing effect. The Northside is used for acute pain, and the South side for chronic pain (long-term use .)
Some people find that magnets are “magic” in their healing effects so they are worth having a go, and they are a passive therapy that works 24/7.
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 condition and they can advise you on the best approach. Do not be sceptical –they do work, and if you have a badly herniated disc, we 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 you may be disappointed.
I realise that in writing this article that there are some who have been in accidents, and disc removal/surgery was unavoidable to prevent further damage from taking place. I empathise with your situation and trust this article is of interest to help you to maintain your health in the long term and to prevent further atrophy.
Peter Farnsworth N.D