Dr. Brandon Claflin: 3 Options for Managing Pain From a Herniated Disc

Updated on March 27, 2024

Are you experiencing lower back pain, which intensifies when coughing or sneezing? Do you feel extreme pain in your lower back whenever you are in a seated position? If yes, then it is likely that you have a herniated disc.

A herniated disc is one of the leading causes of back or neck pain, and studies show that it can happen to anyone. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, 5 to 20 cases per 1,000 adults are diagnosed with this condition every year. If left untreated, herniated discs can cause a variety of health problems, including partial paralysis and long-term chronic pain. Fortunately, several options exist to treat this condition and reduce pain to improve your quality of life. Here is what you need to know about herniated discs and your options for managing pain, as advised by a specialist.

What is a Herniated Disc?

The human spine includes bones called vertebrae, and jelly-like substances called discs are between each vertebra. Known also as a bulging, slipped, or ruptured disc, a herniated disc occurs when a disc or part of it is pushed out of place or protrudes through the disc’s outer casing. This bulging can give you a feeling of weakness or pain in your back and other affected areas. 

If the herniated disc is in your lower back, common symptoms that you may feel include numbness or sharp pain in a particular area of your buttocks, hip, leg, thigh, or calf. Meanwhile, if the slipped disc is in your upper back, you may feel a searing pain radiating from your back and reaching your chest. Oklahoma Interventional Spine and Pain specialist Dr. Brandon  Claflin recommends consulting an expert pain doctor to know your treatment options to treat a herniated disc and reduce pain. Here are some that may help if you have a bulging disc.

Median Branch Block Injection

For extreme herniated disc cases, most specialists would typically recommend a discectomy, which is a type of surgery. This procedure entails the removal of the bulging disc that is causing pressure and pain. But for a less invasive option, Dr. Claflin recommends a median branch block injection. This treatment, often prescribed for mild to moderate pain, involves injecting anesthetic medication into the nerves surrounding the facet joint that transmit pain information. Doing so can relieve lower back or neck pain caused by a herniated disc.

The procedure only takes about 30 minutes, and you will likely be awake for it. However, your doctor will inject a local anesthetic to numb the skin and the tissue near the facet joint. Next, a needle connected to a fluoroscope will be inserted into the facet joint area so that your doctor can check whether the numbing agent is enough to treat the entire area around the joint. Finally, the anesthetic becomes injected, and you will rest for half an hour. After that, your doctor will ask you to perform a series of movements to check for reduced pain.

Physical Therapy

Apart from anesthetic injections, your pain specialist may also recommend physical therapy to improve your range of motion and alleviate low back pain due to a herniated disc. According to Dr. Claflin, an experienced physical therapist will work with your pain specialist to design a personalized treatment program to reduce pain and enable you to resume your daily activities. This program may include gentle stretching exercises, light aerobic activity, and posture correction therapy. 

You may also expect your therapist to advise you on what to do at home between sessions to decrease pain and body stiffness. You may stay active and go on short walks to help you feel better or apply ice or heat to affected areas. Your therapist may also remind you to avoid activities that could worsen pain in your back, legs, hips, or arms. 


In some cases, taking medication can be enough to decrease pain from a herniated disc. Your pain specialist may prescribe over-the-counter medicines first, such as acetaminophen, naproxen sodium, or ibuprofen, to see if these can help to reduce pain. However, your lower back pain does not respond to these medications. Then, your doctor may prescribe muscle relaxers to stop muscle spasms and medication that dulls nerve impulses to alleviate pain, like duloxetine. 

Having a herniated disc can be painful, but you do not have to suffer in silence. Consult an experienced pain specialist to reduce or get rid of your pain completely, and ask for all the different pain management options to know what is right for you. 

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