How to Avoid Surgery and Steroids for a Slipped Disc

by Chris Centeno, MD /

slipped disc

If you see an orthopedic physician or orthopedic surgeon for back pain that turns out to be a slipped disc, the overwhelming chances are that you will be treated with steroids, and when that fails, surgery. But in the risk versus benefit equation that should govern all medical treatment, is that the best plan? Let’s dig in…

What Is a Slipped Disc Anyway?

While the term slipped disc makes it sound like the disc (the puck-shaped cushions that live between the vertebral bones in the back) has completely slipped from its normal location between two vertebrae, this isn’t exactly what happens. A slipped disc is actually a herniated disc, meaning the inner gel (nucleus pulposus) slips through a break in the tough annular covering of the disc. A similar condition is a bulging disc, in which the disc fibers weaken and become stretched, but the annular covering remains intact, or doesn’t break open, and instead of slipping out, the gel creates a bulge in the disc.

A slipped disc or bulging disc can occur anywhere along the vertebral column, from the neck (cervical discs) to the lower back (lumbar discs). Due to the break in the covering, a herniated disc is certainly the more concerning of the two; however, in most cases both can be treated without steroids and without surgery. Let’s learn more about these two disc conditions and how to treat them.

Diagnosing a Bulging or Slipped Disc

One step to diagnosing a herniated or slipped disc is to have an MRI of the affected area of the back. If you have a herniated disc, you will see terminology on the report such as the following: disc herniation, herniated nucleus pulposus, herniated, disc extrusion, extrusion, extruded, sequestered fragment, sequestered, and free fragment.

An MRI should give a clear indication of whether you really do have a slipped disc or just a bulging disc. The terminology on an MRI report that indicates a bulging disc includes the following: disc bulge, broad-based disc bulge, bulging disc, bulging, protruded,  and protrusion.

Why Surgery and Steroids Should Be Avoided for Herniated or Bulging Discs

Herniated or bulging discs can put pressure on and irritate surrounding nerves, causing pain at the area of irritation in the back or anywhere along the nerve branch, such as the knee. Surgery involves removing disc tissue to remove the pressure on the nerves; however, no matter how it’s accomplished, coblation, laser, scalpel, or any other surgical device, surgery for a disc issue often creates more problems than it solves. The video below provides an animation of this surgery…

With surgery, the back wall of that thick annular covering is removed, weakening that area of the disc, which can clearly lead to more issues down the road. In addition, unlike most other tissues in our body, our discs aren’t good self-healers, so while the tissue might grow back in other areas, this isn’t typically the case in the spine. Another problem surgery creates is it disrupts blood supply to the affected area of the disc, which can, again, create more adverse issues and cause long-term problems with that disc. You might see a laser surgery touted as a better surgical solution, but laser, scalpel, or otherwise, anything that involves lopping off parts of the disc will still weaken the disc.

Epidural steroid injections should also be avoided for slipped discs and other disc issues as they not only lose their effectiveness over time but also are riddled with dangerous and toxic side effects, such as spinal fracture risks, cartilage loss, and adrenal issues. To eliminate the effects of these toxic epidural steroids, and do so nonsurgically, there are regenerative solutions for bulging and slipped discs.

Nonsurgical Solutions for a Bulging or Slipped Disc

Whether it’s a bulging or slipped disc, in most cases, it’s best to use a technology that doesn’t involve injecting the disc. Growth factors isolated from your own platelets (called platelet lysate) can be instilled around the nerve that has become irritated by the slipped disc. This allows your own body stimulate its own natural mechanisms to work on repairing your slipped disc.

The upshot? Because steroids and surgery will likely be offered, patients logically assume that they are the best solutions. However, neither steroids nor surgery is a good long-term solution to a slipped disc or other spinal problems. Steroids can cause serious problems, like spinal fractures, cartilage damage, and adrenal issues. Even worse, all surgery is damage to accomplish a goal, and in the case of spine surgery, the damage can create entirely new sets of problems. Seek the help of a interventional orthopedic physician, certified by the IOF in spinal procedures, for regenerative treatment that avoids both sets of problems, and get back to doing what you love!

Category: Back/lumbar

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19 thoughts on “How to Avoid Surgery and Steroids for a Slipped Disc

  1. Melanie

    Just curious if MRI is only way to diagnose bulging disc ?
    Or can physical examination tell there could be bulging disc or nerve entrapment

    1. Regenexx Team

      Hi Melanie,
      Both are needed as they answer different questions.

  2. Guzin

    Hello, just wondering how much slipped disc regenerative treatment start from. I know it changes for each person, just wanted to get an idea.
    Thank you kindly

    1. Regenexx Team

      Hi Guzin,
      Because Regenexx treatment is based on both a Candidacy evaluation and an extensive exam in which we look to identify both the issue and what caused the issue, and use a flexible lab platform where many different treatments can be utilized, we’d need more information through a Candidacy review to give you an idea. You can also call 855 622 7838 and speak to one of our Patient Liaisons.

  3. Damon

    Will a supine MRI of the spine generally show a bulging disc? Whereas a vertical under load MRI of the same spine may not show a bulging disc? Which version of the MRI should you rely on?

    1. Regenexx Team

      Hi Damon,
      They both often show bulging discs. A seated or upright MRI may be more sensitive for showing bulging discs if a supine MRI is normal and one is suspected. The downside to an upright MRI is that there is often less resolution than a supine MRI.

  4. Daddy

    Where can I find an Interventkonal Orthopaedic Physician in South Africa?

    1. Regenexx Team

      Hi Daddy,
      At the moment, likely a a search of ClinicalTrials.gov which is a database of privately and publicly funded clinical studies conducted around the world. We hope to have a Regenexx Physician there in the near future.

  5. Amy

    I can attest to the need for MRIs. I failed the physical exam for a herniated disc only to have the MRI confirm both a complete herniation of one disc and another bulging disc. Do it if you can.

  6. Satyam

    Do this procedure can also effective in treating Degenerated Discs also. How to diagnose a skilled disc or Degenerated disc

    1. Regenexx Team

      Hi Satyam,
      A degenerated disc is a disc that has lost disc height. A slipped disc is actually a herniated disc, meaning the inner gel (nucleus pulposus) slips through a break in the tough annular covering of the disc. Both can be diagnosed with an MRI. The treatment for a Degenerated disc differs as it focuses on treating the sloppy disc movement due to lax ligaments and arthritic facet joints associated with degenerated discs with platelet procedures rather than stem cells. Please see: https://regenexx.com/conditions-treated/spine/

  7. Eric Killian

    After a series of failed traditional approaches to my three herniated discs I received intradiscal lumbar stem cell injections and extracervical injections from Regenexx. I’m currently 13 months post procedure. My life has done a complete 180. From a three year life of pain, back spasms and challenges doing simple daily tasks I can now tie my shoes, pick up my son and I’m even beginning to lift weights again under the supervision of my movement certified strength trainer. I’m not being paid to say this, I’m taking the time to write this in case it helps someone else who is having the same issue or has been in chronic pain and isn’t sure what else to do. At least talk to the Regenexx doctors. Your solution may be different, but I know I felt cared for by my Regenexx doctor and my recovery has been more than I would have ever thought possible.

    1. Regenexx Team

      Hi Eric,
      Wonderful to hear you’re doing so well!

  8. Kurt Rasmussen

    What is your take on PLDD?

    1. Regenexx Team

      Hi Kurt,
      Laser treatment kills nerves and tissue, not a good idea in our opinion.

  9. Matthew e

    How does this compare to an Annular disc Tear?

    1. Regenexx Team

      Hi Matthew,
      A slipped disc is actually a herniated disc, meaning the inner gel (nucleus pulposus) slips through a break in the tough annular covering of the disc, irritating the spinal nerve. With a slipped disc, in most cases, it’s best to use a technology that doesn’t involve injecting the disc. Growth factors isolated from your own platelets (called platelet lysate) can be instilled around the nerve that has become irritated by the slipped disc. This allows your own body stimulate its own natural mechanisms to work on repairing your slipped disc. An annular tear is a tear in the outer covering of the disc, without the nucleus pulposus (the inside) coming out onto the nerves. Here is how an annular tear is treated: https://regenexx.com/blog/stem-cell-disc-treatment/

  10. Todd

    Which “contrast dye” is injected in to the disk, in this video?

    1. Regenexx Team

      Hi Todd,
      We use visipaque or omnipaque.

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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