The Lowdown on Low Back Pain
(and Other Aches)

 

I have neck and arm pain from a cervical disc herniation. What should I do?

Although surgery is frequently recommended, it should be your “last resort.”

Medications, including nonsteroidals and other pain relievers, are generally tried first. Physical therapy for heat, massage, exercise, instruction in ergonomics and traction may be helpful. If traction is beneficial, machines are available for use at home. Chiropractic is similar to physical therapy in some ways and can effectively relieve pain. Neck collars rarely provide much benefit, and no scientific studies support their long-term use. Similarly, cervical pillows may provide comfort but do little to speed recovery.

If conservative care doesn’t help, a variety of injection procedures may be tried. Epidural blocks are injections into the space around the nerve roots. Anesthetics and steroids are used and can alleviate nerve pain in the neck and arm. Facet blocks are shots into the small joints in the back of the neck. They can help midline neck pain. Trigger-point injections are used to put anesthetics into muscles which are in spasm. These can also help midline pain and stiffness.

If all else fails, cervical disc surgery can be done using minimally invasive and bloodless techniques. Only a one-inch incision is needed. The operation usually takes less then an hour and requires only an overnight hospital stay. It works about 95 percent of the time. Most patients wake up without pain. Complications are rare.

 

 






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Last modified: 07/27/08