Please help me out. I am having pretty severe neck and arm pain from a bad disc in my neck. The surgeon I saw said surgery is an option but that I should try a more conservative route first. I was so upset by finding out I had bad discs, I didn't even ask what exactly is "conservative care" and how long does it take?
For any diagnosis, conservative care refers to any form of nonoperative treatment. In the case of neck pain (and other symptoms) from degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, nonoperative care often begins with medications.
The surgeon may have prescribed for you a pain reliever (e.g., Tylenol) or antiinflammatory drug (e.g., over-the-counter ibuprofen or any of its prescribed derivatives). Physical therapy is often helpful in addressing the symptoms, motion, posture and spinal alignment, strength, and function.
Other treatment options include chiropractic care, acupuncture, massage, and any of the alternative methods of healing (e.g., Reiki, BodyTalk, Rosen method, Feldenkrais, therapeutic touch, Rolfing).
Some patients begin with one modality and give it some time to see if it helps before adding another treatment approach. Others combine anything available seeking relief from symptoms as quickly as possible no matter what does the trick.
If, after several months, you do not experience any improvement, then your surgeon may suggest a steroid injection into the area. A second injection may also be advised if you didn't get any relief the first time or if you obtained partial relief and want to try for complete freedom from symptoms.
Most surgeons allow at least six months of conservative care before considering surgery (fusion or disc replacement). Now that you have a diagnosis and baseline X-rays or other imaging studies, follow through with the nonoperative approach and keep your surgeon up-to-date on what is happening with you. Communication is the key to a collaborative decision-making process that will get you the best results possible.