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9 Effective Alternatives To Disc Replacement Surgery

By January 6, 2023No Comments

Disc replacement surgery is the last resort for people with chronic back pain or degenerative disc diseases. Most doctors recommend surgery to the patients after spending at least 6 months on non-surgical treatments. Fortunately, many patients show positive responses to alternatives to disc replacement surgery. 

The most effective non-surgical disc replacement alternatives include avoiding lifting weights, practicing physical therapy, lifestyle modifications, home exercises, and more. When performed correctly, these methods can help reduce the stress on your spine, thereby delaying the need for surgery. 

Here are 9 effective alternatives to disc replacement surgery you must consider today:

1. No Weight Lifting

The heavy strain on your back and neck can damage your discs, leading to the need for disc replacement surgery. So, you must avoid those activities that stress these areas, including maintaining a poor posture, lifting weights, or doing physically demanding exercises.

While avoiding these activities, you must also ensure full support to your neck. Use special pillows and support, or lay down in the position that supports your back and neck. You can also use hot and cold therapies to relieve pressure from your back.

This type of rest can be longer or shorter, depending on the intensity of your back pain. Typically, your doctor will determine the right rest duration for you. 

2. Lifestyle Modifications

Many lifestyle factors can enhance your chances of developing cervical spine disease. Avoiding them and modifying your lifestyle can help reduce pressure on your spine, improve your spine’s health, and mitigate all the risks of disc herniation

Here are some lifestyle modifications that can make a massive difference in your disc condition:

No Smoking

Your body needs blood to repair damaged tissues and relieve pressure on the nerves. Unfortunately, smoking can restrict the blood flow in your body, leading to nerve compression around the spinal discs. 

To prevent this, you must stop smoking or atleast try to curb it. Cessation has shown amazing results in restoring blood flow and promoting proper tissue development. 

Weight Management

Excessive weight is associated with the risk of many disc diseases, especially herniation. Herniated discs can accelerate the aging process and lead to pinched nerves. You can reduce or manage your weight with a low-calorie diet and exercise daily. 

Optimal weight relieves pressure from your spine, decreasing the risks for cervical spine conditions. 

No Repetitive Activities

Many work or leisure activities involving bending, twisting, and lifting weights can significantly impact your spine. When these activities are performed repetitively or regularly, they lead to many cervical spine diseases or disc herniation

If you’re employed at a heavy-duty job, you can try taking leaves for a few weeks or change your job if possible. You can also learn proper lifting techniques and wear the right back-support equipment, such as a back brace, to not put pressure on your discs. 

Whether on duty or not, you should prevent or reduce high-impact activities, especially running, to avoid worsening your spinal disease symptoms. 

3. Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can help improve your posture and strengthen your core muscles simultaneously. It also enhances your walking, sitting, and running postures to relieve pressure from your spine. 

Physical therapy can be an excellent alternative to disc replacement surgery when it involves posture, core, muscle, and gait strengthening exercises. You must consult a professional physical therapist to determine the right exercises for your condition. 

Your physical therapist may also use other treatment methods to improve your pain symptoms. These include the modern methods:

  • Massages
  • Ultrasounds
  • Electro-stimulation through a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit

4. Alternative Therapies

Your doctor may also opt for alternative therapies, such as chiropractic care and acupuncture, to delay disc replacement surgery. They are also known as manual therapies, aiming to relieve pressure from your spine with hands-on methods. 

Chiropractic care involves special techniques to adjust your spinal discs. Meanwhile, acupuncture includes inserting small needles into your injury area to trigger special points in your body for pain management. Your doctor may also suggest different massages to release tension from your spine, arm, neck, and legs. 

5. At-Home Exercises

Your physical therapist will likely recommend you at-home exercises in combination with physical therapy. These exercises are low-impact but effective for core muscle strengthening. 

Cardio exercises, such as elliptical, walking, biking, and swimming, are very effective for spinal disc-related issues. They increase your blood flow and support your muscles without putting stress on the spine. You may also feel a good change in your weight. This will also reduce pressure from your spine. 

To avoid muscle cramps and stiffness, your physical therapist will ask you to pair your at-home exercises with stretching. 

6. Medications

Many prescribed and over-the-counter medications can treat the symptoms of cervical spine disease. Your doctor will evaluate the condition of your discs and the intensity of your pain to prescribe you medications. These include the following:

Over-the-Counter Medications and NSAIDs

The common OTC medicines for spinal pain relief are Tylenol (acetaminophen) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Acetaminophen is an excellent analgesic that relieves pain but doesn’t reduce inflammation. NSAIDs, on the other hand, relieve both pain and inflammation. You can find NSAIDs in different brands and generic types. 

The doctor will strictly prescribe you to take these medications with food to prevent multiple digestive issues, ranging from diarrhea to mild stomach upset. You can take NSAIDs and OTC medication for as long as possible until your pain disappears. For effective results, you can also take these medications in combination!

Topical Medications

Some topical medications can also be excellent alternatives to disc replacement surgery. These are available easily as OTC and prescription medicines. Like NSAIDs, they also aim to relieve pain and inflammation in your damaged discs.

The best OTC topical formula for disc replacement includes the following:

  • Salonpas
  • Icy Hot
  • Bengay
  • Aspercreme

These topical medications require you to apply them on the exact location of your disc disease. Thus, they give you localized pain relief. Some prescription-based topical medications for pain relief include the following:

  • Lidocaine, a numbing cream 
  • Diclofenac (Voltaren), an anti-inflammatory cream

All the above topical medications are great for those who don’t want to take oral medications. 

Muscle Relaxants

As their name suggests, muscle relaxants offer relief to your muscles, thereby reducing muscle spasms and increasing your range of motion. These medications give outstanding results when combined with exercise or physical therapy routine. 

However, muscle relaxants can make you drowsy. Most doctors don’t recommend that patients consume muscle relaxants when driving, studying, or working. The best muscle relaxants for your disc condition are:

  • Flexeril
  • Soma
  • Baclofen
  • Robaxin
  • Tizanidine

Nerve Membrane Stabilizers 

Nerve stabilizers treat multiple types of pain associated with spinal diseases. They relieve shooting, stabbing, numbing, tingling, and radiating pain throughout your body. Nerve membrane stabilizers target the pain signals that the nerves release.

The best nerve membrane stabilizers include:

  • Gabapentin (Neurontin) 
  • Lyrica (Pregabalin) 

Your doctor will start with a low dosage of these medications and then increase it gradually. As the pain seems managed, the dose will gradually decrease until discontinuation. 

While you can take nerve membrane stabilizers in higher quantities, they can make you dizzy or drowsy. So it’s better to start with the lowest dose of these medications to build your tolerance level. 

Off-Label Medications

Off-label medications can also be effective alternatives to disc replacement surgery. The “off-label” means that the medicine isn’t for the use mentioned on its label. The most popular off-label medications are anti-anxiety or antidepressants, which target pain released by the nerves.

Like nerve membrane stabilizers, off-label medications are first increased in dosage to treat tingling, burning, and numbing pain associated with cervical spine disease. However, these medications may make you drowsy, which is why they are recommended to take at night for a good night’s sleep. 

7. Epidural Steroid Injections

Epidural steroid injections consist of steroids or other anti-inflammatory components to reduce pain in your spine. Disc herniation usually puts a lot of pressure on your nerve, resulting in inflammation of tissues and nerves. 

In the procedure, the doctors use a specialized needle to inject medication in the right area of pain, i.e., the back of the muscles and close to the spinal nerves. Since steroids are natural anti-inflammatory medications, they relieve nerve inflammation and reduce pain from disc herniation. 

Epidural steroid injections can help you manage pain for many months. They are also recommended to treat the pain that radiates down the leg. However, there are doubts regarding their safety since steroid injections can break down your muscle and tendon. Many healthcare professionals believe that steroid injections are only safe when injected thrice a year or at least a month apart from sequential injections. 

8. Cell-based Therapies

Also known as stem cell therapies, this treatment method is the result of recent advancements in the regenerative medicine field. Cell-based therapies reduce pain in different areas by extracting healthy stem cells from other body parts, processing them, and reinjecting them into the patient’s injury site to promote early recovery from injuries.

At CELLAXYS, we primarily perform two types of cell-based therapies, depending on the location stem cells are extracted. Our experienced doctors will first identify the source of the pain in your spine and then opt for any method accordingly. 

  • Minimally Manipulated Adipose Tissue Transplant (MMAT). In this process, the doctor extracts healthy cells from your adipose (fat) tissues, processes them, and then reinjects them into the disc area that’s causing pain. MMAT can be performed in multiple locations in the same procedure.
  • Bone Marrow Concentrate (BMAC). This process includes taking highly-concentrated cells from your bone marrow and reinjecting them into the pain site. 

MMAT and BMAC both take a maximum of 2 hours to complete. They are outpatient procedures, so you will go home once the procedure finishes. The doctor uses live X-rays and Ultrasounds to identify the exact area of pain. Cell-based therapies are less invasive and less painful alternatives to disc replacement surgery.

9. Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy (PRP)

PRP is another alternative to disc replacement surgery that works on regenerative medicine. PRP focuses on increasing the number of platelets in the patient’s injury site to promote healing and quick recovery. The doctor at CELLAXYS takes the patient’s blood sample and isolates platelets from plasma. These platelets are then processed and reinjected into the problematic spinal disc area. 

Platelets are the healing components in our body that perform 3 main functions. First, they release 10 Growth Factors for developing new tissues and cells. Then, they attract healing cells from the blood and signal them to the injury area. Platelets also develop a web-shaped foundation called fibrin to boost the development and growth of new cells in the diseased location. 

PRP has been a popular treatment for many orthopedic, spine, and sports-related injuries. The process takes about 45 minutes to complete and is less invasive and less painful than traditional disc replacement surgery. Fortunately, patients who undergo PRP show quick and long-lasting disc herniation relief. 

Dr. Pouya Mohajer

Director of Regenerative Interventional Spine Medicine
Board certification in Anesthesiology and Interventional Pain Medicine
Fellowship-trained from Harvard University
UCLA Alumni

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