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There are many treatments which can be used to help heal a herniated disc. Perhaps the most critical type of treatment is plain rest; a damaged disc needs time to recover and it is important to minimize activity that can further aggravate it immediately after it is injured. Reducing the inflammation and relaxing the muscles around the injury can also help promote healing, and this may be achieved in several ways, including application of heat or cold, massage, or medication. Once the acute recovery phase is over, physical therapy can be used to strengthen the back to support the disc and prevent further injury. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to make a full recovery.
In order to heal a herniated disc, patients must minimize activity for a period of time. This gives the disc a chance to recover and decreases the chances of further damage. Bed rest on a firm mattress may be recommended for up to several weeks, depending on the severity of the herniation. Patients should lay in a position most comfortable to them, either on their back or side, with a pillow under or between their knees if it helps relieve pain.
Decreasing inflammation and muscle tension around the injured part of the spine is another method used to help heal a herniated disc. Drugs including NSAIDs, steroids, and muscle relaxants may all be used for these purposes, as well as for providing relief from the pain typically associated with a herniated disc. Application of heat or cold using a heating pad or ice packs works for some patients; a hot shower or bath may also be effective. Some patients also benefit from a gentle massage of the muscles around the disc.
Physical therapy often plays a role in helping to heal a herniated disc. Stretching and strengthening the muscles in the back can provide support for the spine, including the injured area, allowing it to heal more effectively and decreasing the chances of another injury later on. Some patients may benefit from wearing a brace for a period of time to provide support until their back is stronger and the initial healing phase is complete.
When less conservative treatments fail to heal a herniated disc, surgery may be required. This is often the course of action taken when patients have ongoing, severe pain or neurological symptoms. Procedures may include removing some or all of the disc, and possibly fusion of the vertebrae.