When inner disc material pushes through to the outside layer of a disc, the result is what’s termed a herniated disc. There are situations when the pain won’t go away without some type of intervention. However, there are also instances when the spongy discs cushioning the spine eventually heal on their own with nothing more than simple steps to manage noticeable pain symptoms.
After image testing confirms the presence and location of a herniated disc, initial treatment is often necessary if some level of pain is felt. Such treatments tend to be conservative in nature to allow the body to heal itself over time. While there are exceptions, it generally takes 1-2 years for complete healing to occur. Efforts to maintain patient comfort may include:
- Chiropractic care
- Epidural steroid injections
- Acupuncture treatments
While waiting for the healing process to take place, patients are frequently monitored from one doctor’s appointment to the next. Some people may have some degree of disc herniation without pain until nerves are affected. The determining factor of whether or not to keep treatment to a minimum is the level of pain a patient is experiencing. For instance, patients may not be able to wait out the natural healing process if experiencing:
- Sharp, radiating pain in arms or legs
- Severe pain aggravated by movement
- Burning or searing lower or upper back pain
Encouraging Lifestyle Changes
Doctors often encourage natural healing of herniated discs by suggesting lifestyle changes and taking steps to manage other health issues. A physical therapist can recommend appropriate exercises that will strengthen muscles supporting the spine while minimizing the risk of further injury. Pain can also be reduced during the healing process by:
- Modifying activities that trigger pain
- Eating foods that naturally reduce inflammation
- Improving posture
Approximately 90 percent of herniated discs will get better without significant intervention in a few years, although steps will likely be necessary to manage symptoms. It’s only when patients are experiencing persistent, progressively worsening, or debilitating pain that immediate treatment is necessary. Back surgery to remove part or all of a disc is a last resort.
If you have a herniated disc and are considering possible treatment options, know that there are motion-preserving spine surgeries designed to help patients retain as much movement as possible. To learn more, please call (310) 828-7757 today and schedule an in-person consultation.