A Patient’s Guide to Herniated Discs
Your spine consists of two-dozen vertebrae. Soft, rubbery discs surround and protect these sensitive structures, acting as shock absorbers for the spine. These cushiony discs are surrounded by a hard outer shell called the annulus. A herniated disc manifests from tears or breaks in the annulus, which pushes the discs into the spinal canal. This is also commonly referred to as a bulged, slipped, or ruptured disc.
Most herniated discs are a result of weakening disc material and surrounding ligaments that occur with age. Essentially, a herniated disc is more prone to occur with injury, improper lifting techniques, or just bad luck. Other factors include genetics, smoking, or prolonged recreational and occupational activities that cause strain on the spine.
How Painful is a Herniated Disc?
Herniated discs often occur in the lower back (lumbar spine) or the neck (cervical spine). Herniated disks produce little to no pain depending on whether the bulging disk is pushing against a spinal nerve. Patients usually know right away as there is a sharp or burning pain from the pinched nerve, most often in the arms or legs. Symptoms commonly include tingling and numbness, weakness, or arm and leg pain.
How Long Does It Take Herniated Discs to Heal?
The healing time for a herniated disc typically takes anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks. Some less severe cases may heal in a couple of days. If a patient elects for surgery, the healing time can last between 6-12 weeks. Making the necessary lifestyle changes and incorporating recommended exercises and diet increases a quicker recovery.
How Do You Treat Herniated Discs?
There are many treatment options for a herniated disc. The least invasive treatment toward recovery involves pain and anti-inflammatory medication or physical therapy.
Pain and anti-inflammatory medications help reduce symptoms of the irritated nerves and calm the surrounding muscles. Helpful treatments may include ice/heat therapy, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or prescribed muscle relaxants if experiencing muscle spasms.
Physical therapy helps you regain strength and flexibility in muscles, ligaments, and joints to alleviate pain which fosters healing of the herniated disk while encouraging behavior to prevent re-injury. Physical therapists coach you on learning proper posture, stretching, and exercises to gain strength and mobility, allowing you to regain your daily lifestyle.
Spinal injections & steroids can mitigate inflammation and manage pain while the herniated disc heals. Steroids may be given orally or injected into the spine to treat severe pain. If the herniation continues to cause pain after 6-12 weeks of nonsurgical treatment, surgeries such as a discectomy or micro-endoscopic discectomy may be necessary. Doctors will use an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan to find the bulging discs and assess the best options for you. The surgeon will use minimally invasive techniques to remove the bulging portion of the disc and clear any debris causing pressure on the nerve.
Can a Herniated Disc Heal on Its Own?
Because some herniated disks are not painful, you may fail to realize you have one. Herniated discs usually shrink over time. The biggest factor in healing a herniated disc is time. Sometimes patients must simply wait for the body to naturally heal.
Treat a Herniated Disc at NJSS
Herniated discs are common, but every patient’s path to recovery is different. The New Jersey Spine Specialists want to ensure all patients receive the best treatment options available. At NJSS, our board-certified spine experts will review if you qualify for spine surgery before devising a unique treatment plan. It’s time to eliminate persistent pain from a herniated disc – call (908) 608-9619 today to schedule a consultation about your herniated disc with our trusted spine specialists.
* Spine Health: https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/herniated-disc/lumbar-herniated-disc
* Spine Universe: https://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/herniated-disc