Can A Herniated Disc Heal?
Can a Herniated Disc Heal?
If you have a herniated disc, you may be wondering if it can heal.
The short answer is: Yes, in about 90% of patients with a disc herniation, symptoms will resolve in about six months with no treatment. Because discs lack a blood supply, healing can take time.
The long answer is: This usually does not mean that disc has healed, just that it has been reabsorbed enough by your body for it not to cause you as many symptoms.
How Can a Herniated Disc Get Reabsorbed?
The answer is interesting, and it involves three processes happening simultaneously.
First, your body recognizes the herniated disc material doesn’t belong there, and this triggers your body’s immune response, which may attack the herniated portion of the disc, reducing its size. Interestingly, larger disc herniations heal faster than smaller disc bulges.
Your body may absorb the water in the herniated fragment over time, causing it to shrink and no longer affect nearby nerves.
While moving around your day, you may move the herniated portion of the disc inward and away from the spinal nerves. This is the theory behind spinal decompression. Remove the pressure and create a negative pressure so the disc herniation can get “sucked” back into place.
Patients are often surprised to learn that the degree of herniation seen on imaging doesn’t always match the severity of a patient’s symptoms and that the disc herniation size doesn’t necessarily determine whether surgery is needed or if conservative treatment will be effective.
A herniated disc does not technically heal completely, but the resorption of the herniated disc material may help reduce symptoms and improve overall function.
While over time, symptoms of a herniated disc can resolve independently without intervention, patients with a history of lumbar disc herniation are more likely to experience long-term low back pain than those without a disc herniation.
Even though disc herniation symptoms can resolve independently, we recommend evaluation of back pain by a qualified healthcare provider if you have pain that has lasted more than a week, is getting worse, or is moderate to severe.
We offer free consultations if you live in the Chicago Area and are experiencing back pain.
To further understand disc herniation, we can look at the anatomy of a herniated disc:
What Is A Vertebral Disc
To understand what a herniated disc is, one must first understand the anatomy of the spinal column. Between each bone in the spinal column, there is a healthy fibrous ring, known as a vertebral disc. The purpose of the vertebral disc is to allow for movement while providing a spongy tissue that functions as a shock absorber to deal with day to day weight-bearing activities.
As an analogy, you can compare a vertebral disc to a shock absorber on a car. Shock absorbers on a car provide comfort when going over bumps on the road, but wear out over time and don’t provide the same qualities they did when they were new.
As we progress through life, we may develop spinal degeneration. The discs within our back can become worn out and may take on extra stress as a result of poor postures or by being overweight. Our vertebral discs can become prone to injuries or pathologies such as a reduction in disc height, or potentially lead to conditions like a herniated disc. Vertebral discs also have the potential to herniate from trauma, excessive strain, or through incorrect lifting techniques.
Stages of Disc Herniation
What is a Disc Bulge?
A disc bulge is also known as a disc prolapse or protrusion and is precisely what it sounds like; when a disc bulges, the fibrous inner ring-like tissue loses its structural integrity and allows jelly-like nuclear material – the soft, spongy, central portion to bulge out of it and the disc begins to bulge out into the spinal column when the disc comes under pressure. In the case of disc bulge, the jelly-like nuclear material in the center of the disc remains intact thus making your recovery easier, and this is what makes disc bulge different than disc herniation.
In most cases, a disc bulge results in pain on one side of the body. However, large disc bulges can compress nerves on both sides of the body, causing radiating pain throughout the lower body, incontinence issues, and spinal nerve compression, as is the case with spinal stenosis.
Disc bulges may resolve on their own or progress to disc herniation if left untreated.
What Is A Herniated Disc?
A disc herniation, also known as a disc extrusion takes place when the jelly-like nuclear material inside the disc reaches the spinal canal but remains connected to the disc. When this happens, it may also cause the spinal ligament to become torn or displaced as well.
As the outer part of a disc tears, inflammation, and in many cases, severe pain can result. In many cases, those who experience a herniated disc initially start with a disc bulge that progressively becomes worse if they don’t make lifestyle changes and seek treatment.
The most commonly herniated discs are the L4 – L5 vertebrae and the L5 – S1 vertebrae, located in the lumbar spine region.
What Is A Disc Sequestration?
A disc sequestration is the most detrimental type of disc herniation. When this happens, the spongy material within the disc completely exits the disc. This nuclear material can then cause future complications by entering the epidural space. Disc sequestration doesn’t always require surgery, although it is usually extremely painful.
Cauda Equine Syndrome is a complication that may arise from disc sequestration, which is indicated by loss or change of bowel or bladder function, and or numbness around the inner thighs and lower buttocks. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should call 911 immediately and seek help at an emergency room.
At Ravenswood Chiropractic & Wellness Center in Chicago, our expert chiropractic physicians routinely diagnoses and treats all types of disc herniation.
Herniated Disc Pain Relief
So although many people with herniated discs experience relief within six months without any medical intervention. As discussed above, this is not technically healed, you may want to try some ice therapy to manage pain and be mindful that bed rest is not recommended for disc herniation; instead, try to move around as tolerated. If your symptoms are severe or continue, you should get an evaluation from a qualified healthcare provider, such as a chiropractor near you specializing in Disc Herniation. Surgery is usually a last resort and only recommended if other treatments have failed or there is a spinal cord compression risk.
Can You Accelerate The Healing Process of a Herniated Disc?
If you’re suffering from a herniated disc, conservative treatment options can help. The goal of treatment is to reduce pain and inflammation, centralize symptoms, decrease compression on the disc, and improve core stability.
Class IV Laser is one of the quickest ways to jumpstart the resorption process of a disc herniation. Our Class IV Laser Therapy utilizes photo biomodulation, a natural response of our cells to light waves. By delivering a concentrated dose of light at a specific wavelength and frequency, our high-intensity laser therapy triggers the production of ATP, which is responsible for cellular energy production. This leads to a range of positive effects, including improved blood circulation to the surrounding area, and intensified collagen production, which is what the disc and ligaments around it are made of – that helps the healing. In addition, it reduces inflammation which decreases pain, especially if the inflammation is causing nerve pain, optimized cellular regeneration, and faster overall healing.
In our office, we often use Class IV laser therapy first to reduce pain and inflammation quickly. Once the inflammation is under control, techniques such as massage and trigger point dry needling can be used to release tight muscles. Chiropractic adjustments can then restore normal joint motion and decompress the disc space. Finally, physical therapy can be prescribed to strengthen the core muscles and promote healing. With this comprehensive approach, patients can often experience relief from disc herniation in a relatively short period.
Learn more about Disc Herniation Treatment
Dr. DeFabio is a highly regarded chiropractor in Chicago who focuses on helping his patients achieve optimal health and wellness. He takes a holistic approach to care, treating symptoms and addressing underlying issues to promote long-term healing. Dr. DeFabio is passionate about empowering his patients to take control of their health and live their best lives. You can find him surfing, skateboarding, and volunteering at the Lakeview Food Pantry when he’s not in the office.