herniated discs and dealing with chronic pain
November 9, 2016 8:25 AM   Subscribe

How do you deal with it? Any tips/stories?

I've had herniated discs for a while, mostly around the c4-c5, c5-c6 area. I do what I can at the gym multiple times per week, combining my upper body workouts with physical therapy exercises that I've done thoroughout the last few years. I also do a cervical traction device once or twice a day.

I don't feel like I'm making enough progress always though. My muscles in the neck area are a bit weak and it's frustrating at times to deal with chronic pain and also work out to improve my body.

Does anyone have any sort of unique combination they do to strengthen the muscles without damaging or harming anything? I'm a little scared of Yoga or trying new things. I also do cardio workouts a few times a week to balance my workouts with not too much upper body stuff.

I don't take much medicine. Just ibuprofen or tylenol occasionally. I use BioFreeze periodically. I stretch 3 times a day for about 10-15 mins using specific neck stretches from my PT. I take a muscle relaxant at night. I'm thinking about a C5-C6 disc replacement as well this year.

Also, does anyone have any really good symptom relief techniques or devices they use? The biggest thing for me isn't putting in the work, it's being too sore after and discouraged that I don't have any kind of muscle tension or ache relief.
posted by isoman2kx to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried voltarem gel or cataflan gel? Rx anti-inflammatory ointment. Won't heal per se, but helps with pain. :/
posted by Neekee at 8:28 AM on November 9, 2016

Response by poster: I've tried it a bit Neekee and it helps, but I don't like taking it.
posted by isoman2kx at 9:22 AM on November 9, 2016

I dealt with it by having a fusion. Could not be happier with the outcome. Regained strength in my arm, eliminated the pain and allowed me to sleep much better.

Prior to the fusions, I did try yoga. It was painful in the short run, but even in hindsight, I think it was beneficial to me.
posted by AugustWest at 9:45 AM on November 9, 2016

I took Gabapentin (C6-C7 represent!) for a while, which is specifically for nerve pain. It kind of helped to deaden, though not eliminate, the pain down my arm and neck at the expense of putting me off in la la land half the time.

I did yoga and physical therapy but it never felt like those things were really making a difference. In the end time helped heal it, until it came back. Then Gabapentin and more time made it go away again. The arm pain hasn't returned in a couple years though now I have some weird head/neck/muscle thing going on that I need to have checked out.

Honestly the best advice I got was from my spine doctor who said "you just have to live your life as if you're not in pain all the time." That sounds like terrible advice, I know, but once I started just living my life and doing things I discovered I could manage, despite the pain.
posted by bondcliff at 10:38 AM on November 9, 2016

I had a herniated disc in my lower back and ended up having surgery after all exhausting all other options and I wish I had done it sooner. What does your doctor say about surgical options?
posted by unreasonable at 10:39 AM on November 9, 2016

After 20 years of on and off back, neck and shoulder problems, I've come to the best place I've ever been in the past 2-3 years through learning how to apply trigger point therapy on myself.

The basic principle is finding and working with simple, hard pressure on the points in muscles away from the critical area that are referring pain and tension to it.

There's a degree of learning about the interaction of different muscles and muscle subgroups in it, which in some ways echoes the body-awareness training you can get through yoga; I've thus found it doubly useful as it's provided symptom relief and fed into a general improvement in posture and balanced physical effort.

Much of the pressure work can be done with your hands, but is often helped with a few mundane tools - foam roller, tennis ball, squash ball to roll muscles against on the floor; tennis ball in a long sock to hang behind the back against a hard wall to roll e.g. shoulder blade muscles.

I have also invested in a thera cane to help with leverage in self-massage, particularly on my shoulders which are relatively large and solid.

The best resource I've found for learning techniques was the Trigger Point Therapy Workbook. There's a reasonable range of online resources to be found as well, but the book has been more a help in building that overall awareness of the role a range of muscles end up playing in maintaining chronic pain.
posted by protorp at 12:07 PM on November 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

if you haven't done c-spine specific physical therapy with someone whose actual specialty is c-spine pt then you should give that whirl.

cortisone shots are really excellent but have a few not great side effects like weight gain and seemingly eternal dry mouth.

you'd only be getting a 2-level fusion if surgery is something you'd want to consider; a 2 level fusion is not as huge a deal as you might be imagining it is. i mean, it's a serious surgery, it's your neck, but 1-2 level fusions are very routine.

find out if you're a candidate for disc replacement or microdiscectomy.

do NOT, for the love of god, allow anyone but a certified medical professional to suggest exercises for your neck. no yoga teachers, no pilates instructors, no randos on the internet. NO. DO NOT. do not do anything weight-bearing that puts direct pressure on your neck. no using the squat rack with the barbell on your shoulders. no shoulder stand in yoga class. no headstands. pls. don't.

if you are considering surgery do try to get at least one second opinion, if not 3 total. it's worth it to pay out of pocket for the office appointment if your insurer only covers a single second opinion. some neurosurgeons may have special rates and shorter appointment wait times if you specify that you are looking for a second opinion and will be bringing hard copies of all your previous radiology films and associated reports.

for the pain, you may want to ask for a prescription antiinflammatory like edotolac. it works pretty well on my lower back herniation. i am also very partial to dry saunas and in general having my indoor temperature be around 80 degrees at all times, with as little humidity as possible.

i am, unfortunately, at the point where nothing will help my neck situation. flexeril gets me through day to day, and steroid shots 2-3x a year are the bandaid on this bullet wound, but this is as good as it's gonna get unless some doctor somewhere will agree to do a 5 level fusion. lol irl. please, i cannot urge you strongly enough to have your neck issues handled decisively as soon as humanly possible.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:30 PM on November 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is swimming an option for you? It really helped me. My disks herniation were C5-C6 and C6-C7. I tried lots of different physical therapies. Was offered but declined fusion. I knew two people who had surgery - one successful, one not. My swim technique focused on keeping head aligned with torso, rotating entire body to breath without twisting neck. It was a multi year process but I'm fully pain free in neck now but taking ibuprofen for unrelated rotator cuff issue.
posted by X4ster at 11:28 PM on November 9, 2016

Response by poster: X4ster,

Swimming is an option. Not very often during the week, but on the weekend I COULD. I don't swim very well, however lol.
posted by isoman2kx at 7:27 AM on November 10, 2016

As utterly skeptical as I was when it was suggested to me, I have had amazing pain reduction results with turmeric. 1400mg/day. Although it hasn't completely eliminated the pain from a blown disk or rolled back the neurological damage, my foot still tingles a bit, the reduction in pain for about the last year since I began taking it has been profound.
posted by bz at 8:16 AM on November 11, 2016

Response by poster: BZ,

I've used turmeric before but didn't notice significant pain reduction. I hate taking 80 supplements and medicines... (not your fault, lol) though. I take ibuprofen or tylenol as needed right now.

Right now I take..

Fish oil (3 x daily, 3-6-9 omega)
Viibryd (antidepressant)
Multi vitamin
Nasal spray
Muscle relaxant (methocarbamol)
Silenor (sleep)

Think it'll help?
posted by isoman2kx at 9:31 AM on November 12, 2016

Isoman, following up; I'm a poor swimmer too, and probably got more exercise as a result of not having an efficient stroke. I wore small kick fins to help keep my legs and spine aligned for positioning when taking a breath. My technique was to rotate to where my shoulder was pointed toward the bottom of the pool for each breath, minimizing neck rotation. Be patient and don't expect fast cure. My return to pretty normal activities took a couple years. The accident the caused my cervical herniations was severe enough to completely change my career but the change has worked out exceedingly well. I hope that you have a good full recovery.
posted by X4ster at 7:42 PM on November 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

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