Can a Disc Herniation Heal?

Did you know that there is a certain percentage of the population right now walking around with disc buldges and herniations in their spine and they feel no symptoms at all? Disc herniations are actually much more common than most people think. Most people think that someone with a disc herniation will be bent over in excruciating pain, unable to walk, work, or even stand up straight. However, that isn’t always the case. Chiropractors, physical therapists, and primary care doctors are trying to pass this message along to their patients now more than ever. Do not be afraid of the diagnosis of a disc herniation. You may have the ability to bounce back from such an injury without any surgeries or injections.

What is a disc herniation? A vertebral disc is the cushion between each bone in the back (vertebrae). They help the back move fluidly and also help to absorb daily pressure. The outer ring of the disc is made up of a thick tendon that helps the back with twisting and bending movements. The inner portion of the disc is made of a a softer jelly-like material comprised of mostly water. The more pressure we put on the spine, the higher the chance that the outer tendon will break down. There are two common ways that outer tendon can tear. The first is daily micro trauma. This can occur in people who sit all day at work, bend and lift objects frequently, or work out heavily at the gym. Although the disc is made to handle many of these movements, it can succumb to damage over time. This type of disc herniation is typically unexpected and can seem to happen “out of nowhere.” A person could bend over to pick up a piece of paper and the disc tears due to the previous micro traumas. The other way that the outer tendon of the disc can tear is an acute injury. An acute injury occurs when a force is placed on the back so strong that it tears the tendon immediately. This is more commonly seen in patients following a car accident or other traumas. Whatever the cause may be, the result is usually the same: the outer tendon tears, allowing the jelly-like inside to protrude out from the center. Once it is protruded out, it has the possibility to put pressure on, or “pinch” a nerve. Not all disc herniations protrude out far enough to actually pinch the nerve. In smaller herniations, the inside portion of the disc does not come out far enough to make contact with the nerve. These patients may feel deep achy back pain, but they typically will not have the severe pain commonly seen with other types of herniations.

Many people wonder, “can a herniation heal itself?” The short answer to that is yes, however, it depends. In more serious cases, the disc herniation will pressing on the nerve causing a sharp shooting pain from either the neck or low back into your arms or legs. From there you will begin to feel a numbness or tingling, almost as if the extremity is asleep. Lastly, weakness occurs. The muscles that the nerve connects to will start to become so weak that it feels as if you cannot use them. In a case like this, more serious treatments are necessary, potentially even surgery. If the patient is only at the point that they feel sharp stabbing pain into the arms our legs, there is still hope. Treatments include chiropractic care and physical therapy. Chiropractic spinal manipulations, combined with deep tissue muscle work, and rehabilitation exercises can help reduce pain and help facilitate recovery. These treatments are aimed at natural pain relief, giving the body time to absorb the herniated disc. In some cases, the jelly-like inside will actually retreat back into the center of the disc. These are the patients that resolve after the injury, but may have flare-ups from time to time.

Healing from a disc herniation is painful, but it is possible. Having patience and discipline to follow a strict care plan that involves chiropractic care, exercise, and avoiding provocative positions are all important. Recovery can take anywhere from 4 weeks to several months. It is important to remember that it is a rehabilitation process, not a quick fix.

If you have any questions about whether or not we can treat your back pain feel free to contact Rochester ChiroTherapy by email, or phone 585-678-1153.