Many times after an auto or work related injury or a sudden, unfamiliar movement, a parson develops neck and low back pain. If the pain persists, runs down an arm or leg or there is numbness in an arm or leg, the doctor order MRI, also known as magnetic resonance imaging, or CT scans (computerized axial tomography scans) to check for problems. Very commonly a diagnosis of a herniated or bulging disc is made. Simply put, herniated or bulging discs are distortions or displacements of the fibrous discs that separate the bones of the spine. Herniation is a further protrusion of the disc material than is bulging and with touch nerves, causing pain to travel down an arm or leg. These conditions are very common. Usual treatment starts with physical therapy, medications and osteopathic or chiropractic manipulation. If pain does not improve trigger point injections, manipulation under anesthesia, epidural injections and in a few cases, spinal surgery. Surgery is usually reserved for very severe cases.
But what can you do to help yourself? As it turns out, there’s quite a bit that you can do for yourself.
In my clinical experience, the cause of the bulging or herniated disc is both the impact from the original trauma and spasm of the muscles around the spine. Having reviewed many MRI’s and x-rays, the degree of muscle spasm seems to determine the level of pain, rather than the number or degree of injured discs. Why do the muscles go into spasm? The body’s instinct is to protect itself from further harm by holding the neck or back rigid. Normally, this spasm will release but nutrition deficiencies, bad posture, anxiety and even bad breathing habits keep the body locked into spasm.
These are things that you can do to help relieve muscle spasm:
Supplementation with Calcium and Magnesium and their co-factors, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D and vitamin K.
Most people are deficient in these nutrients. There are several reasons for the epidemic of low level malnutrition. Most of our favorite foods are highly processed and have very little nutrition.The soil used to grow conventional (i.e. not organic) fruits and vegetables is depleted of minerals. To make things worse, sugar and refined carbohydrates leads to loss of minerals. The body uses these minerals to buffer the acids in sweets and white flour.
Most supplements contain poorly absorbed forms of calcium and magnesium such as oxide or carbonate. Calcium Lactate and Magnesium Lactate are the best absorbed forms of these minerals. I also encourage patients to get as much minerals as they can from foods because they will contain all the necessary co-factors. Excellent dietary sources for Calcium are collard greens, sardines, black eyed peas, white beans, bone broth and diary products (the highest being ricotta cheese, yogurt, hard cheeses and milk). Be aware that calcium is poorly absorbed from skim milk.
Magnesium is harder to obtain from the diet. Good sources of magnesium are pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, Spirulina, edamemame, raw cocoa, tofu and buckwheat (kasha). Taking magnesium supplements is almost always necessary to correct decades of deficiency. Magnesium is important for muscle relaxation of the skeletal muscles but also of the internal muscles like the blood vessels and the respiratory systems. This is why magnesium supplements are recommended for high blood pressure and asthma as well as bone and joint issues.
Next you need vitamin D3 to help these minerals to be absorbed. Again vitamin D deficient is an epidemic because of our indoor life style, phobia of sun exposure and vitamin d rich foods are not universal favorites. Volumes can be written about the health benefits of vitamin D. It is best known for bone health but it is also important for immune system health and cancer prevention.
Cod liver oil, egg yolk and liver, though excellent sources of vitamin D sadly, are not very popular.
Salmon and swordfish are good sources and many people are willing to eat them. I also recommend Blue Ice Gold Cod Liver Oil. It is not processed, adulterated and there are no artificial vitamins added. It contains a full spectrum of naturally occurring vitamins.
Essential fatty acids are also necessary for absorption. Actually, an entire library can be written about the benefits of “good” fats. In the case of herniated disc injuries, the most improtant aspects are improving calcium absorption and reducing inflammation. Omega 3 fats act to shuttle calcium from the GI tract to be absorbed and used properly. Studies have shown that calcium is not fully absorbed from low fat dairy products. 
Acid blockers and antacids will prevent mineral absorption. Osteoporosis can result from acid blockers. The stomach was meant to be acidic to sterilize and properly digest foods. Blocking or neutralizing acids may temporarily relieve symptoms but it does not solve the under lying problem.
And lastly, vitamin K is necessary to properly distribute the minerals after they are absorbed. We want the calcium to go into the muscles and bones, not be deposited in the walls of the blood vessels or kidneys. That’s the job of vitamin K. Defiecieny is epidemic because vitamin K rich foods are not readily available and not considered palatable by most people. Vitmain K comes from grass fed milk, brie cheese and Japanese natto.
Natto is an incredible super food but most Americans do not like the taste. Natto has vitmain K, probiotic bactiria and the anti-inflammatory nattokinase.
Tastes are acquired. Liver, natto, brie cheese and such are actually considered delicacies by whole cultures. Natto’s taste can be enhanced by adding Thai fish sauce, tamari, chopped shiso or cilantro leaves. If an “offensive” food is eaten regularly with an open mind, tastes will change. I encourage everybody to try organic non-GMO natto as a low cost nutritional power house that keeps for weeks or months if frozen.
Beyond supplements and diet I recommend castor oil packs and rubs over the painful areas. Castor oil has unique anti-inflammatory protperies and heat always aids in relaxing stiff muscles. Heat generally should not be used in the first 72 hours of an accident or injury. But once the intense pain decreases to stiff soreness, it’s usually safe to use heat.
The pack is prepared by heating 2 – 4 ounces of preferably organic castor oil and saturating a wool or cotton flannel square. The oil soaked fabric is placed over the painful area and a non-electric heating pad applied. This can be left on as long as it is comfortable. Castor oil does stain, so cover clothing and bedding with old sheets or towels.
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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
*Consult your physician before taking any supplement.
 Am J Clin Nutr August 2000 vol. 72 no. 2 466-471 http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/72/2/466.full
 FDA Drug Safety Communication: Possible increased risk of fractures of the hip, wrist, and spine with the use of proton pump inhibitors http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/PostmarketDrugSafetyInformationforPatientsandProviders/ucm213206.htm