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Oxygen-Ozone Treatment for Herniated Discs

An Emerging Alternative to Surgery for Herniated Discs

Peer Reviewed

For the many people suffering from lumbar herniated discs, invasive surgery is a rare treatment option. However, that doesn't diminish the significant pain that often accompanies the condition. But there is some potentially good news on the horizon. Some researchers are backing a non-surgical option that may be as effective as surgery but without the complications—oxygen-ozone injections.

Oxygen-ozone injections were introduced in the 1980s, and more than 20,000 patients in Europe have used the treatment with a 78.7% success rate.

It is less prevalent in the US, as some medical professionals still believe more research needs to be done to determine the true effectiveness and safety of oxygen-ozone injections. In fact, many in the medical community are skeptical of oxygen-ozone injections in part because such a large percentage of patients with herniated discs heal on their own. Therefore, it's difficult to determine if the patients are healing because of the injections—or they're simply getting better on their own.

But Dr. Kieran Murphy, a researcher with the University of Toronto, believes that will soon change.

At the 2009 scientific meeting of the Society of Interventional Radiology, Dr. Murphy presented findings after combining the results of several studies on oxygen-ozone treatment. His research team found that patients receiving oxygen-ozone treatments experienced similar outcomes, as far as pain and function, as patients who had a discectomy1.

Researchers also reported that the complication rate and recovery time were lower with oxygen-ozone injections compared with traditional surgical techniques.

How Oxygen-Ozone Treatment Works
Oxygen-ozone gas is given via an injection into the herniated disc. A needle delivers the treatment directly to the disc, and it reduces the volume within the disc. This is due to the oxidation of proteoglycans, which are proteins found within the gel-like center of the disc (known as the nucleus pulposus). When your disc volume is reduced, the pressure on nerves is also reduced. This, in turn, reduces the amount of pain you feel.

Benefits of Oxygen-Ozone Treatment
Besides a shorter recovery time and lower complication rate than surgery, other benefits of oxygen-ozone injections include:

  • It is minimally invasive
  • It is an outpatient procedure
  • It takes little time to administer
  • It costs much less than surgery
  • It is a pain-free procedure

An Important Note
Oxygen-ozone treatment is not suitable for everyone. If you have paralysis of the legs, an uncontrolled bladder, calcified discs, or spinal cord compression, then surgery is a better option. Always discuss your medical history with your doctor. He or she will help you determine if oxygen-ozone injections—or any other type of treatment—will help relieve your herniated disc pain.

Updated on: 01/24/13
Jason M. Highsmith, MD
This article was reviewed by Jason M. Highsmith, MD.
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