Improving Herniated Discs Without Surgery
Dr. Melanie Brown | Originally posted to Mountain Times | January 1, 2023
Discs are the shock absorbers of our spine. They hold space between the bones of the spine, called vertebrae, to allow movement.
If looking at discs from above, they consist of outer cartilaginous rings, called annular fibers, and a soft inner gelatinous “nucleus pulposus,” which moves within the disc with changes in posture. It’s kind of like a jelly donut.
What is a herniated disc?
When a disc herniates, there are tears in the annular fibers, allowing the inner material to bulge out. This bulging can irritate nearby nerves and create lower back pain. Moreover, if a herniated disc affects a nerve, you may feel numbness, tingling, weakness, and shooting pain down the leg.
Some think a disc herniation automatically means a trip to the surgeon, but most herniations can heal with conservative care. In addition, studies have shown that those who fail conservative care trials have better surgical outcomes.
A herniated disc hits close to home
When my chiropractor husband and clinic co-owner, Dr. Jason Brown, was 35, he had a gnarly lumbar disc herniation. For a young guy, his low back had suffered years of abuse, including an intense high school football program and leaning over vats lifting 50-pound chunks of cheese in his grandpa’s string cheese factory.
He had intermittent low back pain throughout our marriage, but our 5,000-mile road trip in 2014 to Wisconsin and back pushed him over the edge. He knew when he put his water bottle behind his back and the “creepy crawlies” went away in his left leg that he probably had a herniation.
We sent him to our friend Dr. Wei for a lumbar MRI, and he was kind enough to call before he sent the results. He said, “I want you to know it’s bad. Jason has one of the biggest disc herniations I’ve ever seen. So sorry!”
This diagnosis was devastating news for a family of two chiropractors, one (me) who was about to have her fifth child! So, we sat down to figure out what we would do, and we said, “OK! I guess we’re going to be a disc clinic!”
We ordered a flexion-distraction table and started him on a conservative trial of care, including flexion-distraction therapy, chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, massage therapy, exercises, and nutritional supplements. His results were fantastic!
What is flexion-distraction therapy?
Flexion-distraction therapy is an effective treatment used for lumbar disc herniations. During this treatment, a patient will lie face down on a table where the legs and feet move up and down, with the table extending and stretching the back and creating a negative pressure where the disc material can be drawn back in.
Flexion-distraction therapy can:
– Reduce pressure on your spinal nerves and discs
– Decrease bulging of herniated discs
– Improve range of motion and mobility
– Relieve stiffness
– Promote good disc health
– Relieve pain and numbness in the back, buttocks, and legs
– Improve posture
How well did conservative treatment work for a herniated disc?
A year later, Jason’s lower back pain flared up following a rear-end car accident. So, we ordered another lumbar MRI and got another call from Dr. Wei. This time, it was better news.
He said, “I don’t know what you did, but Jason’s herniation has healed so well, it is almost completely gone!” He asked if he could use his before-and-after MRIs in his PowerPoint presentations. We were thrilled!
Now, Dr. Jason is the poster child for our clinic. It has been rewarding to help others in this same predicament over the years. Finally, I am grateful we didn’t opt for surgery!