Signs a Herniated Disc Is Healing

Located between each vertebra of the spine, intervertebral discs play an essential role in supporting the spine. These discs absorb impact when you walk, run, stretch, and move throughout your day. 

Unfortunately, spinal discs aren’t immune to damage. In fact, between five to 20 out of every 1,000 adults develop a herniated disc each year. If you experience this injury, you may be eager to identify signs that the herniated disc is healing. Read on to learn more about the healing process for a herniated disc. 

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What is a Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc is a spinal disc that becomes damaged, causing the disc interior to push out through the disc exterior. This compromises the disc’s structure and ability to absorb impact. A herniated disc can also press on nearby spinal nerves, causing pain and neurological symptoms. 

Symptoms of a lumbar herniated disc can include:

  • Sharp or burning pain, often on one side of the back and/or in one leg
  • Pain that radiates from the lower back to the leg
  • Tingling, numbness, and/or weakness in the lower extremities
  • Leg muscle weakness

How Long Does It Take Nerves to Heal After a Herniated Disc?

It typically takes one to six months for nerves to heal after a herniated disc. It can take longer for the nerves to heal in severe cases. 

Since a herniated disc can irritate spinal nerves, nerve healing is an essential part of the recovery process. It’s important to seek professional care for this injury, as an untreated herniated disc can lead to significant nerve damage. In rare, severe cases, nerve damage from a herniated disc may cause a loss of bowel or bladder control, sexual dysfunction, or even paralysis. 

In most cases, nerve pain from a herniated disc heals with non-surgical treatment. Remedies including rest, gentle physical activity, physical therapy, and heat/cold therapy are generally recommended. These treatments lessen inflammation, improve spinal stability, and support the body’s tissue healing process. 

Signs of Nerve Healing from a Herniated Disc

Potential signs that nerve tissue is healing after a herniated disc include:

  • Reduced nerve pain, tingling, and numbness
  • Improved muscle strength and coordination
  • Reduced sensitivity around the affected area

In most cases, nerve healing comes with less pain and neurological symptoms. However, electric-shock-like pain can also indicate nerve healing. Described as electric, sharp, or shooting, this pain is your body’s way of telling the healing nerve where to extend its signals. 

Does Herniated Disc Pain Get Worse Before It Gets Better?

Pain in the spine, woman with backache at home, injury in the lower back, photo with highlighted skeleton

Herniated disc pain will get worse over time if it’s left untreated. With the proper care, the pain typically gets better. 

With treatment, herniated disc pain is unlikely to get worse before it gets better. However, it may worsen if you don’t adhere to your treatment plan or engage in activities that stress the spine, like high-impact exercise and extreme spinal twisting. 

Herniated disc pain may also get worse if your treatment plan isn’t working for you. If you experience worsening symptoms after a few weeks of treatment, contact your physician. They may recommend changes, such as different exercises, an anti-inflammatory diet, or rest. 

Signs a Herniated Disc is Getting Worse

A herniated disc may be getting worse if you experience more severe symptoms. This may include worsening back pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness. The damage may also be getting worse if your symptoms start to disrupt your day-to-day activities. 

If a herniated disc is getting worse, your symptoms may feel more intense or start to radiate into the extremities. A worsening herniated disc can also cause muscle spasms that make it difficult to stand or walk for prolonged periods. 

Does a Herniated Disc Ever Fully Heal?

Yes, a herniated disc usually fully heals over time. However, to fully heal, herniated discs require proper care.  

Some minor herniated discs heal completely with at-home care. Home treatments for a herniated disc may include:

  • Rest: Avoid any activities that strain the spine or cause symptom flare-ups. However, avoid extended periods of bed rest, which can lead to muscle tension. 
  • Gentle stretching boosts circulation to the spine and prevents tension that can worsen muscle spasms. 
  • Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications help manage herniated disc symptoms by reducing swelling in the spine. While they can provide short-term relief, they can’t cure a herniated disc. 
  • Cold and heat therapy: Cold therapy reduces inflammation and provides short-term pain relief. Heat therapy relaxes the back muscles and boosts blood flow to the injured tissue. 

If your herniated disc symptoms don’t improve within a few weeks with at-home care, it’s time to talk to a professional. Contact your doctor, who can provide a diagnosis and personalized treatment plan. They’ll likely recommend physical therapy and lifestyle adjustments, along with the home remedies listed above. 

When conservative treatments fail to fully heal a herniated disc, you may need to consider surgery. Surgery for a slipped disc is generally only suggested when the symptoms don’t improve after six to 12 months and disrupt the patient’s daily routine. 

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What Are the Final Stages of a Herniated Disc?

The final stages of a herniated disc are disc extrusion and sequestration. 

Stage three (out of four) of a herniated disc is known as disc extrusion. During this stage, the jelly-like disc interior (called the nucleus) breaks through the disc’s outer layer (called the annulus). However, the nucleus retains the rest of its structure inside the disc. 

In the disc extrusion stage, since the nucleus has fully ruptured through the annulus, the patient may experience symptoms of nerve compression, like tingling, weakness, numbness, and radiating pain. 

Stage four is the final stage of disc herniation. In this stage, the nucleus loses its structure within the disc. So, it rests outside of the disc in the spinal canal. This is a considerable neurological injury and may require surgery for a complete recovery. 
In the final stages of a herniated disc, you may need surgery to prevent severe complications and achieve lasting pain relief.