Treatment for Herniated Disc

Herniated discs are among the most common spinal injuries, affecting 80% of people at some point in life. This injury occurs when the soft interior of the disc pushes out through a tear in the tough disc exterior. When the disc is damaged in this way, it may compress nearby spinal nerves. 

Table of Contents

  • How Long Does a Herniated Disc Take to Heal?
  • What is The Fastest Way to Heal a Herniated Disc?
  • Can a Herniated Disc Heal on Its Own?
  • Is It Better to Rest or Exercise a Herniated Disc?
  • Can Stretching Aggravate a Herniated Disc?
  • What Are The Best Stretches For a Herniated Disc?
  • Is Walking Good for a Herniated Disc?
  • Can Massage Help a Herniated Disc?
  • Herniated Disc Surgery
  • To alleviate back pain and neurological symptoms from a herniated disc, prompt treatment is required. In this article, we’ll explore the available treatment options for a herniated disc and how to speed up the recovery process. 

    How Long Does a Herniated Disc Take to Heal?

    A herniated disc typically takes two weeks to three months to heal. The duration of this healing period can vary greatly depending on:

    • The patient’s age
    • The patient’s overall health
    • The severity of the herniation
    • The treatment plan
    • How closely the patient follows their doctor’s instructions

    What is The Fastest Way to Heal a Herniated Disc?

    The fastest way to heal a herniated disc, in most cases, is to:

    • Avoid activities that cause pain and place pressure on the spine, as recommended by your doctor
    • Use heat and cold therapy
    • Remain active with gentle, low-impact activities, as this promotes circulation to the damaged disc and prevents disc degeneration
    • Take over-the-counter pain medications to manage inflammation
    • Work with a physical therapist to prevent muscle tension, strengthen the muscles that support the spine, and resolve movement patterns that may be worsening the injury

    In cases of a severely herniated disc, the faster way to heal may be to undergo surgery. However, this is rare and most patients fully recover with non-surgical treatment methods. Nonetheless, we’ll discuss herniated disc surgery in greater detail in a later section. 

    Can a Herniated Disc Heal on Its Own?

    A herniated disc can heal on its own if the patient implements excellent home care methods and avoids activities that could exacerbate the damage. In fact, according to Harvard Health Publishing, herniated disc pain goes away on its own within six months in 90% of cases. 

    Is It Better to Rest or Exercise a Herniated Disc?

    It’s better to exercise a herniated disc because too much bed rest can lead to disc degeneration. However, you may need a few days of rest after a disc herniation to achieve low back pain relief. Additionally, you should only perform gentle, low-impact exercises with a herniated disc to avoid pain and other symptoms. 

    Some of the best forms of exercise for a herniated disc include:

    • Gentle stretches
    • Yoga
    • Pilates
    • Walking
    • Swimming 

    Patients with a herniated disc should avoid intense cardio, weightlifting, running, conventional biking, squats, leg presses, and related motions, as it may worsen their symptoms. 

    Can Stretching Aggravate a Herniated Disc?

    Stretching can aggravate a herniated disc in some forms, particularly if the stretching involves spinal flexion. However, in most cases, gentle stretching is one of the most effective ways to alleviate herniated disc symptoms.

    Gentle stretching can benefit your herniated disc treatment plan by improving back muscle flexibility. This allows the muscles to better support the herniated disc, leading to less pain and neurological symptoms.

    Along with other forms of exercise for herniated discs, stretching also promotes circulation to the damaged disc. As more blood flows to the disc, the damaged will receive the oxygen and nutrients that it needs to heal. 

    What Are The Best Stretches For a Herniated Disc?

    The best stretches for a herniated disc include:

    • Knee-to-chest

    A gentle knee-to-chest stretch is a great stretch to start with, as it’s easy and non-strenuous. 

    Simply lie down on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the ground. Then, take the back of one knee and gently pull it toward your torso. Once you feel some resistance, hold the stretch for 10 seconds, and repeat with the other leg. 

    • Half cobra

    This stretch involves gently arching the lower back, which can help position the damaged disc for faster healing. 

    Lie down on your stomach, with your entire body (including your forehead) flat on the ground. Gently bring your elbows under your shoulders to raise your chest and head with your hips and legs remaining on the floor. Engage your abdominal muscles and hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds, 

    • Cat-cow

    This basic yoga stretch is commonly used to alleviate back pain. It can help boost spinal mobility while alleviating strain on the herniated disc. 

    Prop yourself up on your hands and knees, with your back in a flat position. Take a deep inhale, drop your stomach towards the floor, and look up towards the ceiling. This is the “cow” position.

    On the exhale, slowly lower your head and tailbone, bringing your spine into an arched “cat” position. Repeat this 10 to 30 times. 

    Is Walking Good for a Herniated Disc?

    Yes, walking is good for a herniated disc. It’s a low-impact form of exercise that can help you remain mobile without causing your symptoms to flare up. Plus, walking boosts blood flow to the spine to facilitate healing. 

    Keep in mind that you may not be able to walk for extended periods early in your herniated disc recovery process. Start with a short period of walking (such as 10 minutes) and gradually increase to 30 or 40 minutes, so long as you don’t experience pain, weakness, tingling, or numbness. 

    Can Massage Help a Herniated Disc?

    Massage can help a herniated disc by preventing muscle spasms and tension, which can worsen back pain. An experienced massage therapist can identify the source of your back pain and provide a gentle, targeted massage to improve it. 

    Deep tissue massage is widely considered the best type of massage for a herniated disc. This is because muscle spasms and tension often begin deep within the muscle tissue. A deep tissue massage can directly target this tension, providing relaxation and improved mobility in the affected area. 

    Herniated Disc Surgery

    Herniated disc surgery typically involves discectomy, a form of spinal decompression in which the damaged portion of the disc is removed. However, note that most patients with a herniated disc won’t require surgery. It’s generally only considered if the patient’s symptoms don’t respond to several months of non-invasive treatment. 

    What is a Discectomy?

    During a discectomy, the surgeon removes the damaged disc tissue that’s impinging on nearby spinal nerves. This process alleviates pain, weakness, tingling, numbness, and other neurological symptoms. Some patients may be good candidates for a microdiscectomy, which is a less invasive form of surgery that requires a smaller incision. 

    After the damaged disc tissue is removed, the spine is vulnerable to instability. To offset this risk, the surgeon usually either completes spinal fusion or places a non-fusion implant, like the TOPS System or an artificial disc. 

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    Unlike spinal fusion, which permanently fuses the affected vertebrae, the TOPS System restores a controlled range of motion in the spine. It’s an advanced treatment option for patients suffering from a herniated disc in the L2 to L5 region of the lumbar spine. 

    To receive a personalized treatment plan to resolve herniated disc pain, schedule an appointment with a spinal specialist in your area.