Herniated Disc vs. Degenerative Disc Disease Treatments

An accurate diagnosis of the underlying cause of pain and other symptoms is crucial, since the diagnosis dictates effective treatment options.

For example, treating a lumbar herniated disc will not do much good if a muscle strain or other soft tissue injury is the actual cause of pain. This point is especially important if surgery is being considered for treatment.


Nonsurgical Treatments for Herniated Disc Pain

Nonsurgical treatment is always the first course of action for back pain, including pain from a herniated disc or degenerative disc.

Options for nonsurgical treatments typically include a combination of:

  • Spine-Specialized physical therapy typically includes a combination of stretching, strengthening, and aerobic exercise to provide better stability and support for the spine.

    See Physical Therapy for Low Back Pain Relief

  • Massage therapy can help reduce muscle tension and muscle spasms, which may add to back or neck pain. Muscle tension is especially common around an unstable spinal segment where a disc is unable to provide necessary support.

    See Massage Therapy for Lower Back Pain

  • Epidural steroid injections consist of steroid pain medication injected into the area surrounding the spine. This treatment tends to be more effective for nerve root pain than for neck or back pain.

    See Epidural Steroid Injections

In most cases, nonsurgical treatment is able to sufficiently relieve pain from a herniated disc and surgery is not needed.

See Treatment Options for a Herniated Disc

Surgical Treatments for Disc Pain

Surgery is only considered when nonsurgical treatments have not provided adequate pain relief.

Spine surgery can only alleviate pain if the herniated disc or degenerative disc seen on an MRI is confirmed as the pain source. The following spinal surgeries may be considered to alleviate disc pain:


Spinal surgery is typically paired with a physical therapy rehabilitation program to restore range of motion and maximize functioning after surgery. Recovery from surgery depends on the severity of the condition, and the individual’s natural healing process.

Surgery is never appropriate when the exact pain source cannot be identified.