Herniated Discs — Part III

OK, I’m back! Sorry it took me a bit to get this third installment to you. We had just been talking about the basics of healing an injured disc — rest, walking, no sitting, and acupuncture. Just this will take you a long way in the right direction, and there are other things you can do. Here are a few more points I’d like to emphasize:
Increasing Core Strength
Strengthening your core is crucial when it comes to discs. You need that support to keep the pressure off the discs. At first, you may not be able to do much. It’s OK to start small. Regularity and persistence is key. And this is something you can get your insurance to pay for! Go to your doctor, get imaging, as we talked about in part I, resist shots or surgery, but ask for physical therapy (PT). Then also ask around to find a good PT. Your PT can help you figure out exactly what exercises are right for you. At the very least, everyone can do some pelvic tilts, (start with these easier ones), bent leg marches, (my PT had me start with raising each foot just one inch and holding!  This can be harder than lifting all the way!), and figure 4 stretches . Click through to see instructions on YouTube (you can find everything on YouTube!)

Swim, Swim, Swim!

Swimming can give you some of the movement and cardiovascular exercise you need. And the best thing is that there’s NO PRESSURE ON THE DISC! So it’s also decompressing! Swimming 2-4 times per week did me a lot of good. In fact, adding swimming and increasing my dose of fish oil (see below) was a big turning point for me. If you already like to swim, great, but if not, soldier on — it’s worth it! You get used to the routine and the water. Now I really like it! Big bonus: most gyms and Y’s also have a hot tub and sauna! Yum, Yum!

Decompression                   

Speaking of decompression, it is always important to think of decompressing your disc.  That’s why lying down some is better than sitting all the time, and swimming is great!  Besides swimming, hanging upside down, at least at an angle, can also do it.  It is NOT advised to hang all the way upside down if you have high blood pressure, any weak blood vessels, aneurysms, or other medical conditions, so consult with a doctor first.  Most people can at least invert at a slight angle, by either lying upside down on a slight incline (a sit up bench, or a hill outside), or using an inversion table.  Chiropractors also often offer the safest and most effective decompression by using a computerized machine that does it for you!

Reduce Inflammation

Reducing inflammation could be another whole blog post (good idea!) including following an anti-inflammatory diet, I just want to emphasize a few things here:

  1. The acupuncture reduces inflammation — studies have shown that those who get acupuncture regularly have a reduction in C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation.
  2. Ice is your friend. Whenever you feel you’ve overdone it or there’s a flare in pain, ice and stretch.
  3.  Fish oil — the omega-3s, 6s, and 9s in fish oil are anti-inflammatory! When I increased my dose from 1g/day to 3-4g/day I had a noticeable improvement! I recommend the OrthoOmega I carry here at the office, it’s one of the best out there, fresh, no fishy afterburp, and the most bioavailable, meaning your body can use it easily!

What I’ve Learned About Sciatica and Herniated Discs – Part II

This is part two of a series about healing injured discs. Last time we emphasized how important it is to get a good diagnosis and imaging. But what exactly did I do to heal my disc and avoid surgery and injections? I’m not gonna say it was easy. I did say that I changed my life for a year, and then some. But now my own body has done such a good job of healing that I’m almost back to normal and I’m stronger and less likely to have more problems. No complications like permanently damaged nerves, or immobilization problems in the future. I want to emphasize that it’s worth it.

Let’s split things up into the short term, and the long term. As soon as you know you have an injured disc, it’s important to slow down. You will have to alter your work and/or home life so that you don’t overdo it and you have to lie down some throughout the day. Your disc needs time to heal, and time when there is little to no pressure on it.

At the same time, it is important to also keep walking and stretching. In the past, medical professionals thought we needed to lie still most of the time when a disc was injured. Now we know that people get better faster if they keep walking some. Walking helps promote circulation to the area so it can heal, helps the body drain fluids from a ruptured disc or from inflammation that may be irritating nerves, and helps keep muscles looser so they do not impinge the nerve.

One of the worst things for your disc is sitting. Sitting puts the most pressure at the disc. Interestingly, standing or walking reduces the pressure since the spine is kind of hanging there between the hips. Somehow, 30 minutes seems to be the limit before flare ups are caused, so no sitting longer than 30 minutes.

Acupuncture is also a very important part of the process. I normally get acupuncture regularly anyway, but as soon as I knew I had an injured disc, I began getting acupuncture two times per week. Acupuncture is one of the best treatments for discs for both pain relief and to promote healing. In a disc injury case, it may not take your pain away in one session, but over time, pain relief will build, although we are always fighting against the pressure we are always putting on discs. So for the first 3-6 months, it’s always very up and down with discs no matter what you do — be patient.

I recommend the following schedule:

  1. rest in what’s called 90-90 (see photo) or neutral position 10-30 minutes 3-6x/day90-90-position-back-pain
  2. In between – NO SITTING LONGER THAN 30 MINUTES. Walk, stand, stretch.
  3. Walk at least 10 minutes 3x/day. Walking for 30-60 minutes for one of those sessions is highly beneficial, but no longer. Too long can be harmful as well. I started saying, “my back is like a dog, it needs to be walked three times a day.” I quickly figured out that a 10 minute walk before bed really helped me sleep with less pain.
  4. Get acupuncture 2-4 times per week. That’s right, you can go often if you want and can afford it. I went to other practitioners 2x/week, but also needled myself sometimes in between. Find a good acupuncturist who has had experience with disc injuries and nerve irritation. No cupping or deep massage for the first 3-6 months. This just irritates the already irritated nerves, and may disrupt the “holding” mechanism your body has instituted to protect the disc while it heals. Besides pain relief, acupuncture also ensures the area heals in the best way by clearing unwanted fluids and preventing unnecessary tissue buildup.

That’s the basics for now. Next time we will talk about adding in core strengthening, stretching, swimming, and supplements. Take it easy for now. Good luck, you can do it!

 

 

What I’ve Learned About Sciatica and Herniated Discs – Part I

Exactly one year ago, I developed sciatica.  I’ve now overcome it, with no shots, no surgery.  As a health care practitioner, I already knew quite a bit about back-painsciatica, but it turned out I still had more to learn.  Since I have many connections, and know what questions to ask, my knowledge of discs and sciatica expanded exponentially.  I learned so much that I decided to write a series all about sciatica and discs.

Part I  – Getting it Diagnosed and Avoid Surgery at All Costs

Many people think that Western Medicine should be able to get them out of pain as soon as possible, even if it means surgery.  But when it comes to a disc, that is not always the best idea.  Yes, there are certain situations where you might need surgery, which I will mention.  However, any invasion of the body is just that, an invasion, and usually creates scar tissue where your body would not if it healed on its own.  If things can be cleaned up a little with minimal invasion, that’s better, but still not ideal.  And the only surgery they have for a ruptured disc these days is spinal fusion, (take special note of the risks!) which you really don’t want.  Opinions and even data vary, but the surgery success rate is not always great, and your body will eventually do a great job all on its own, thank you very much, it just takes time.

The first thing I learned is that if the sciatica doesn’t go away easily with some stretching and acupuncture, it’s very important to get a good diagnosis at least, and possibly some imaging.  This may seem obvious, but sometimes doctors don’t want to do it unless pushed.  Sciatica can come from many possible sources. Even imaging may not pinpoint the source, but it can help quite a bit in many instances.  It’s especially important to know if there is a disc involved, and if so, if it is just bulging, or actually ruptured.  Both bulging and ruptured discs can heal on their own.  It’s also important to know if there are any bone spurs or bone growth at the openings where nerves come out, called stenosis.  An MRI might be necessary for this.  If bone growths are involved, a few months of herbs can sometimes rescue them, but if not there’s not much other recourse, they need to be removed.  A bulging disc, if cared for properly, can usually heal in 3-6 months.  If it has ruptured, the fluid will come out, but the casing of the disc will still heal and your body can adjust.  This just takes time, 6-8 months minimum, and the area will continue to heal for 1-3 years.  That said, while you do have to curtail your activities, you don’t have to be in a lot of pain during that time although it can be very up and down.

My Story

At thepain-free-back beginning, I was told I had a bulging disc.  I didn’t do imaging because I didn’t think it would matter, I knew I didn’t want surgery.  Now I wish I had done imaging.  When I finally got an x-ray 6 months later, we found that I actually had a ruptured disc that was already healing, and a vertebrae that was slipping forward.  This knowledge could have helped me earlier in a number of ways.  Thinking it was only bulging a little, I over did some activities.  The x-ray showed my disc and vertebral ligaments had been injured in an accident.  I had been blaming myself for my posture.

In any case, my disc has healed and I am out of pain, even though it was ruptured, and once again, without surgery and no shots.  It did change my life for a while, but I was willing to do it to avoid the risk and invasion of surgery.

Next in this series: Part II – What To Do to Avoid Surgery with a Herniated Disc