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Are Painkillers Effective for Alleviating Herniated Disc Pain?


Unless the pain you are experiencing is physically debilitating and making it nearly impossible to go about your day, it is often possible to manage the pain associated with a herniated disc with painkillers. This is especially true if the discomfort stemming from a damaged spinal disc is short-term or only results in occasional flare-ups. This article explains what to keep in mind when using painkillers for herniated discs.

Painkillers Are Best Used during the Early Days of Disc Pain

According to
WebMD, the short-term use of painkillers often results in a noticeable decrease in pain from a herniated disc, including discomfort related to tissue swelling. In fact, during the early days or weeks of herniated disc pain, painkillers can be effective and safe to use for many patients. However, it is generally recommended that patients with disc-related pain limit the use of painkillers to the first 10 days or so after symptoms are first noticed.

It May Be Best to Start with Over-the-Counter Painkillers

The general rule of thumb with using painkillers to help with herniated disc pain is to start with over-the-counter pain medications. Ibuprofen and naproxen are often recommended because these drugs combine pain relief with inflammation reduction. If OTC meds are not effective for your herniated disc pain, your doctor may prescribe stronger medication if you are having issues with flare-ups or discomfort at certain times of the day. Possible prescription pain relievers include:

• Codeine or oxycodone-acetaminophen
• Prescription muscle relaxants if you are experiencing disc pain from muscle spasms
• Amitriptyline and similar medications if you are having issues with nerve-based pain related to your
herniated disc

Pain Medications Should Be Combined with Physical Therapy

You may be able to ease your need for pain medication if you begin a physical therapy routine as soon as it is possible for you to do so. Physical therapy strengthens the muscles that support the spine, which eases pressure placed directly on the affected disc and any irritated nerve(s). As you continue with your physical therapy routine and perform the recommended exercises and stretches at home, you will likely notice a gradual reduction in your discomfort.

Steroid Injections May Help

If there comes a time when painkillers are not effective for easing your pain but you are not ready to consider having
back surgery such as a discectomy or a less invasive microdiscectomy, you may benefit from steroid injections. These injections are administered directly into areas around spinal nerves. The relief experienced may improve your results with physical therapy, which may help you manage your pain better.

Patients Should Know When to Seek Treatment beyond Painkillers

There are some potential risks that go along with the long-term use of certain painkillers—namely, opioids. Even extended use of NSAIDs could contribute to kidney and digestive problems as well as other potential health risks. For this reason, it is best to see your doctor or a spine specialist if you have been depending primarily on painkillers and similar medications to manage herniated disc discomfort. This is also a step worth considering under the following circumstances:

• Your symptoms are severe and not easing
• You are using higher doses of painkillers to manage your discomfort
• You are experiencing concerning side effects from the medications you are using for pain management

If you have a herniated disc that is not responding to conservative treatment, a discectomy may be discussed and potentially recommended. Although this is generally a very successful procedure, having a large hole in the outer ring of the disc more than doubles the risk of needing another operation. A new treatment, Barricaid, is a bone-anchored device that closes this hole, and 95 percent of Barricaid patients did not undergo a reoperation due to reherniation in a 2-year study timeframe. This treatment is done immediately following the discectomy—during the same operation—and does not require any additional incisions or time in the hospital. 

If you have any questions about the Barricaid treatment, ask your doctor or contact us at 844-288-7474.

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