Before hastily deciding to have surgery for your newly diagnosed herniated disc, you should take this non-surgical approach.

A herniated disc in the low back (lumbar region) is when a portion of the shock-absorbing tissue of the disc bulges or herniates out from between the vertebral bones.

The result can be irritated or compressed nerves, leading to pain that can occur in the low back and/or radiate to the buttocks or legs.

Tingling and numbness may also occur.

What is the most effective nonsurgical treatment to date for lower back disc herniation?

The top three home treatments for a herniated disc in the lower back are rest for one day, then apply ice on the area for 15 minutes three times a day, and also take ibuprofen or naproxen, says Walter Roche, MD, with Medstar Union Memorial Hospital who specializes in spine-related illnesses.

Dr. Roche says, “Physical therapy in combination with oral steroids and activity modification for two weeks; no heavy lifting; no running or strenuous activity. Allow the inflammation to subside.

“Narcotics play a small role in pain control for people with herniated discs. I don’t offer them.

“The best drugs are steroid medications, (methylprednisolone) oral steroids, prednisone, cortisone.”

The best two exercises that Dr. Roche recommends for herniated disc patients are walking and swimming.


Does pain during physical therapy for lumbar herniated disc mean the patient is damaging it?

“Not necessarily … no,” says Dr. Roche. Physical therapy is intimidating to some people because they fear it will further damage their herniated disc.

“It’s important to communicate with the PT that if any activity is causing pain,” says Dr. Roche.

“The physical therapist is trained extensively and they would modify the therapy to minimize the amount of physical discomfort or pain. A good PT should not be doing anything that would exacerbate the pain.”


It may seem logical for the person with low back pain to stay seated as much as possible, or to avoid walking and being up and about as much as possible, in the name of resting the damaged area.

But this approach really needs to be reconsidered. That’s because it will probably do the patient a lot more harm than any good.

“Sitting makes the situation worse,” says Dr. Roche. “That’s why walking is one of the best exercises you can do when you have lower back pain…. swimming, or laying down. Sitting is bad.”

Just remember this mantra: Beware of the Chair.

As for lying down for relief, don’t overdo this, either.

Be sure that when you lie down (other than to go to sleep at night), this doesn’t become prolonged bed rest.

Instead, it should be a brief respite from being up and about to give the back some rest—perhaps about 20 minutes. Use a timer to make sure that you don’t overdo this.

Dr. Roche focuses on acute/chronic pain management, conservative spine care, musculoskeletal medicine, sports medicine and electrodiagnostic medicine.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  


Top image: Shutterstock/ Stasique
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