Oxygen-Ozone Treatment for Herniated Discs

About this emerging and potential treatment alternative to steroids and surgery for herniated discs.

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For the many people suffering from herniated discs, surgery is a rare treatment option. However, that doesn't diminish the significant pain that often accompanies the condition. While an epidural steroid injection is a standard non-surgical treatment option, it poses safety concerns. Fortunately, a newer therapy shows promise to become the future of conservative herniated disc care—oxygen-ozone injections.
Blue sky with clouds and heart shaped bubbles in the airOxygen-Ozone Therapy: An Alternative to Injections and Spine Surgery?
Oxygen-ozone therapy for herniated discs has gained traction in Europe and Asia since it was first introduced in the 1980s. Current research on oxygen-ozone therapy shows that 65% to 80% of patients have reduced herniated disc symptoms after the treatment. Moreover—and arguably as important as the success rate—patients experience few complications with oxygen-ozone therapy.

Spine researchers are taking a closer look at the healing potential of oxygen-ozone therapy, and many are discovering that it boasts the same—if not better—results than established treatments like epidural steroid injections and surgical discectomy.

In 2009, Dr. Kieran Murphy presented his team’s findings on oxygen-ozone treatment, noting that patients receiving oxygen-ozone treatment experienced similar outcomes, as far as pain and function, as patients who had a discectomy. The research also showed that the complication rate and recovery time were lower with oxygen-ozone injections compared with traditional surgical techniques.

A study published in 2014 examined the long-term effectiveness of oxygen-ozone therapy by reaching out to patients 10 years after their initial therapy. The authors concluded that oxygen-ozone injections are safe and effective in approximately 75% of patients who have herniated discs—and the benefit lasts through 10 years. The authors went on to say that the therapy is worth exploring before considering surgery.

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 (called the nucleus pulposus). When your disc volume is reduced, the pressure on nerves is also reduced. This, in turn, lowers 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.

Why Isn’t Oxygen-Ozone Therapy Available in America?
With clinical studies showing that oxygen-ozone injections are a low-risk and high-reward herniated disc treatment, you may wonder why they aren’t readily available in the United States.

Oxygen-ozone treatment is less prevalent in the United States because some in the medical community believe more research needs to be done to determine the long-term effectiveness and safety of oxygen-ozone injections.

In fact, many clinicians and researchers 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.

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.

While it remains to be seen whether oxygen-ozone injections will become a universal treatment of choice for herniated discs, one thing is for certain: Having clear and open discussions with your doctor will help you achieve the right treatment, right now. Your doctor will help you determine if oxygen-ozone injections—or any other type of treatment—will help relieve your herniated disc pain.

Updated on: 09/09/17
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Jason M. Highsmith, MD
This article was reviewed by Jason M. Highsmith, MD.
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