Temple Health's tips for treating, preventing disc injuries of the back

6abc Digital Staff Image
Monday, February 13, 2023
Temple Health tips for treating, preventing disc injuries of the back
Temple Health doctors explain the pain from disc injuries, and options for relief.

BENSALEM, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- The spine is a very complex structure that makes every other body movement possible.

When it's not functioning properly, it's hard for you to function.

Fortunately, the most common problem - disc injuries - can be dealt with, or even prevented.

Ron Mroz of Bensalem loves hunting and fishing with friends.

"We go up there and we fish for a week up in the mountains. And we fish different streams and all," Ron recalls with a smile.

But he missed several of those beloved yearly trips, due to excruciating leg pain that made walking and standing impossible.

"It hurt so much, down your butt down to your knee, really," he remembers.

"I worked maintenance in a paper factory, and the place was huge. It got to the point when I was walking out to a machine, I'd have to sit down halfway there because I couldn't make it all the way out there," Ron says.

Dr. Theresa Pazionis, a Temple Health spine surgeon, says that the pain didn't start in Ron's leg, but from herniated or bulging discs in his back.

She says discs are the spine's shock absorbers.

"You'll see that kind of a spongy lining to the inside of the disc and that hard tire," says Dr. Pazionis, referring to spine model.

Dr. Benhum Habibi, a rehabilitation specialist, says if the disc alone is injured, pain stays in the lower back.

But when the spongy middle protrudes out to the sides -

"Maybe pressing down on one of these nerves here in yellow, and causing that sort of nerve pain down on or multiple legs, both legs," that is a herniated disc says Dr. Habibi.

The doctors say disc problems come from both acute injuries and long-term wear and tear.

But they are treatable.

"90% of people with a disc injury will see improvement with sort of conservative or minimal care," he says.

Anti-inflammatory, steroid, or anti-spasm medications - plus six weeks of physical therapy and home exercises are the norm.

"We don't prescribe narcotics for these. There's been a lot of evidence that narcotics are actually harmful," says Dr. Pazionis.

Dr Habibi says using proper mechanics for bending and lifting, 150 minutes of moderate exercise weekly, and strength training can prevent trouble.

"The more muscular support you have around the joint, the less pressure and forces are exerted on the discs themselves," says Dr. Habibi.

Dr. Pazionis says sufferers shouldn't dismiss surgery out of hand, other more conservative measures are failing.

It has evolved tremendously in recent years, she says, with less invasive techniques, which are bringing higher success and satisfaction rates then ever.

After years of injection treatment, Ron did need surgery last year.

"Best thing I ever did," he says.

And even with the rods and screws Dr. Pazionis implanted, he's moving pain-free again.

"I couldn't believe all that stuff was in my back," Ron says with a laugh.

"But I haven't run across anything I can't do now. I mean, I can walk, I can bend," he says.

He was back on the hunting trip last fall, and he's looking forward to the spring fishing trip in May.