Every year, about 2% of people in the United States develop a herniated disc, and it’s one of the most common causes of neck and back pain. The good news is that most disc herniations heal on their own over time.
At Douglas J. Ables MD & Associates in Castro Valley, California, our team of health experts specializes in herniated disc treatment. We understand how the pain from these damaged discs affects every aspect of your life. But with the right interventions, your disc herniation can heal.
Here, we want to talk to you about what you can expect with a herniated disc and what you can do to ease the discomfort so you can get back to doing what you love.
About disc herniation
An intervertebral disc separates and cushions each vertebral bone in your spine. These discs have a tough exterior (annulus) and a gel-like interior (nucleus). In addition to cushioning your bones, intervertebral discs act as shock absorbers and support spine mobility.
Disc herniation occurs when the gel-like center of the disc pushes out through a break in the tough exterior. This herniation may irritate or compress your spinal cord or a nerve root, resulting in pain that may radiate to your arms or legs.
You can get a herniated disc from an acute injury, but they most often occur because of the natural degeneration of the disc that occurs as you get older. This degeneration process makes the tough exterior of the disc more vulnerable to cracks that lead to the herniation.
You can develop a herniated disc in any part of the spine, but they most often affect the cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) spine.
How long does healing take?
Healing of a herniated disc varies and depends a lot on your recovery process and the type of treatments you try. Though some people may feel better within a few days, it can take anywhere from 1-3 months for a herniated disc to heal.
When the gel-like material breaks through the exterior of the disc, it releases a chemical that irritates your spinal nerves. Symptoms from a herniated disc are the result of inflammation and swelling of the nerve from the pressure caused by the herniation.
Over time, the herniation shrinks and your pain subsides.
Treatments for a herniated disc
How long it takes for your disc herniation to heal on its own depends a lot on you.
Though we often recommend resting for the first day or two following the initial injury, we discourage prolonged inactivity. Staying in bed too long weakens your back’s supportive muscles and may worsen the herniation.
We recommend you start with light walking and use an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication to ease pain. You can also try ice and heat therapy.
Stretching and exercising also support the healing of your herniated disc. We refer you to a physical therapist, who designs a program that fits your fitness level and activity needs, including exercises you can do at home.
We may also refer you to our chiropractor and acupuncturist. Their approaches focus on providing therapies that support your body’s natural healing process, which may help speed up your recovery.
When it comes to healing a herniated disc, you need to be patient. Most herniated discs heal on their own. We only perform surgery for a herniated disc when conservative treatments fail to provide relief from symptoms.
Let us help you heal your body so you can get back to your active lifestyle. Call our office today to request an appointment.