Will a Herniated Disc Heal on its Own?

When you’re suffering from the pain and discomfort of a herniated disc, you might wonder if it will heal on its own.

Herniated discs aren’t universally the same: There are several types, they can have different causes, and each one has different symptoms. Also, after you’ve had a back injury, you’re at higher risk of having more back problems in the future.

While your symptoms may lessen over time, the fastest way to find relief from a herniated disc and preserve your spine health is through a visit to CurePain and board-certified interventional pain medicine specialist David Wu, MD. Read on as we explain more about herniated discs.

The Anatomy of a Disc

Your intervertebral discs are the rubbery cushions between each of the vertebrae in your spine. These ligaments have a strong exterior made of fibers called the annulus fibrosus, and a soft, gel-like center called the nucleus pulposus.

When your discs are healthy, the annular fibers evenly distribute pressure across your disc while the hydrated nucleus is the main shock absorber. Unfortunately, discs can become damaged as a result of injury, due to normal wear-and-tear on your body, and because of the natural effects of aging.

If one of your discs becomes damaged, you have a herniated disc — sometimes called a bulging, slipped, or ruptured disc.

Not All Herniated Discs Are the Same

There are three primary types of herniated discs.

Contained herniation

This type of herniation is also known as a protrusion or bulging disc. It occurs when your disc’s nucleus sustains damage and begins protruding into the external annulus. This causes your disk to flatten and can lead to pressure on adjacent nerves.

Non-contained herniation

With a non-contained herniation or disc extrusion, your disc’s nucleus bursts through the exterior of the annulus. As the jelly-like center of your disc bulges from the ligament, it can exert pressure on surrounding nerve roots or the spinal cord itself.

Sequestered herniation

If you have a sequestered herniation, a piece of your disc’s nucleus ruptures through the exterior annulus and breaks off. This condition is often due to an untreated, non-contained disc herniation.

The Source of Herniated Disc Pain

Not all herniated discs cause pain — in fact, you can have a herniated disc and not know it. Herniated disc symptoms are typically due to pressure on surrounding nerve roots that cause pain, weakness, or numbness in the area where the affected nerve travels. The gel-like nucleus of your disc also contains inflammatory proteins that can add to nerve inflammation.

Most herniated discs occur in the neck (cervical spine) and lower (lumbar) back. When your herniated disc is in the neck, you might feel radiating pain in your arm or shoulder. Herniated discs in the lower back are the most common cause of sciatica, a condition characterized by pain, numbness, and weakness running deep in the buttock, down your leg, and into your foot.

If your primary symptom of a herniated disc is a backache, the surrounding nerve root isn’t involved.

Treating a Herniated Disc Preserves Your Spine Health

Depending on your type of disc herniation, it may not heal on its own, and your spine health could be compromised. When you have a herniated disc, it’s important to work closely with Dr. Wu to determine the extent of your disc herniation and develop an approach to manage your condition.

Dr. Wu might recommend a variety of treatments to ease your symptoms and preserve your spine health, including:

When you’ve had a herniated disc, your risks of additional back problems increase in the future. Dr. Wu also works with you to keep your back healthy by providing proper posture and lifting techniques, recommending exercises that are beneficial to your back health, and maintaining a healthy weight. Depending on the condition of your spine, he might monitor its health through regular digital imaging.

If you think you have a herniated disc or have had back problems in the past, call Dr. Wu at CurePain or book an appointment online.

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