Can a Herniated Disc Heal on Its Own?

Most people recognize that certain spine conditions can develop as a result of wear and tear over time. However, studies also indicate that up to half of all doctor’s visits for back or neck pain relate to an injury. In both instances, it is common to see herniated discs. When diagnosed with this problem, patients often wonder if their disc might heal on its own. We’ll discuss that here.

What is a Herniated Disc?

The spine is a line of individual bones (vertebrae). In between each set of bones is an intervertebral disc. These are softer tissue; a durable outer ring filled with a rubbery, fibrous material. The discs prevent friction between bony structures, allow the spine to move in all directions, and also maintain sufficient space between bones for nerve roots to exit the spinal column.

A herniated disc is one in which a tear has occurred. A tear may result from injury or wear and tear at a weak point in the disc. When the tough outer shell tears, even slightly, the inner gelatinous material pushes out into the spinal canal. This can put pressure on the nerves, causing inflammation and irritation that results in painful symptoms. The symptoms of a herniated disc and inflamed nerves can radiate away from the nerve root to affect any area along the nerve pathway, such as in a leg or arm.

So, What about Healing?

In some cases of herniated discs, patients notice an improvement in symptoms over time. Most have to curtail their activities for at least a few weeks. Many also have to take anti-inflammatory or pain-reducing medication to control comfort. Patients who are seen by their doctor for acute back pain may be advised to see a physical therapist, as well, to hasten healing. But does the disc actually heal? Studies indicate that it does not.

Although patients may feel better as they rest and move farther away from the time of their injury, the tear in the herniated disc usually does not go away. What can happen is that the body may engage in an immune response to decrease the swelling in the disc, reducing pressure on surrounding nerves. If the spinal segment is disrupted in the future, which it can be through simple movements, the disc may tear further, allowing more of the nucleus to leak out.

If pain from a herniated disc is severe, persists, or worsens, it is time to seek the help of a specialist. Imaging such as an MRI can identify the area and severity of the tear. Discectomy and neural decompression can be performed in our Tampa office to alleviate pain from the herniated disc. To learn more about this procedure, call (813) 920-3022.

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