Fish Oil & Herniated Disks

Fact Checked

iJan Sandvik/iStock/Getty Images

Most herniated disk cases are managed with rest and physical therapy and do not require surgical intervention, according to MedlinePlus. Additional therapy may include patient education, cortisone injections and prescription or over-the-counter pain reducing and anti-inflammatory medications. Growing evidence indicates that fish oil supplements may reduce the inflammation and pain associated with herniated discs resulting from degenerative disk disease.

Degenerative Disk Disease

There are disks made of cartilage that cushion the individual bones between the vertebrae and keep them from rubbing together. These disks have a tough outside and an inside that is gel-like. Small traumas, daily stress and increasing age can contribute to the development of degenerative disc disease. Small tears in the exterior of the spinal disk can cause the gel-like center to dry up, resulting in a narrowing of the space between two vertebrae. This initial damage to the spinal disk can lead to other problems such as herniated disks and discogenic pain.

Herniated Disks

When a spinal disk is herniated, the gel-like material at the disk’s center squeezes out of the tear and may press against the spinal cord or inflame the nerve endings it comes into contact with, resulting in numbness, muscle weakness or pain. Inflammatory cytokines and arachidonic acid are often present at the site of an injury, according to an article in the 2010 issue of "Surgical Neurology International." When present with a herniated disk, the contribute to discogenic pain.

Fish Oil

Management of disk herniation often includes treatment of the associated inflammation with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs -- however long-term use of these NSAIDs can have a negative effect on overall health. In a study published by Dr. Joseph C. Marron in Surgical Neurology titled, “Omega-3 Fatty Acids as an Anti-inflammatory: An Alternative to Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs for Discogenic Pain,” demonstrated that of patients suffering from neck and back pain as a result of disc degeneration or arthritis who took fish oil supplements, 59 percent reported a decrease in joint pain and 68 percent stopped taking NSAIDS.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Fish oil supplements contain docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, and eicosapentauonic acid, or EPA, which are omega-3 fatty acids. These marine-derived omega-3 fatty acids inhibit arachidonic acid metabolism, thereby reducing the generation of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins, according to a review in the 2010 issue of "Nutrients."