Skip to main content

Does a Herniated Disc Resolve on Its Own?

Does a Herniated Disc Resolve on Its Own?

Herniated discs are common back injuries, especially among middle-aged and elderly folks, though they can happen to anyone. Trauma, tissue degeneration, or stress and strain can damage the cushiony discs between your bony vertebrae and cause significant pain.

If you’ve experienced a herniated disc, you want relief as quickly as possible — but do you really need a doctor, or will it heal on its own?

Dr. Dinash Yanamadula, our board-certified pain management and rehabilitation specialist at Princeton Pain & Spine Institute, gets this question often from our patients in Lawrenceville and Edgewater, New Jersey. Here’s what he says about how to treat a herniated disc.

Herniated discs 101

Before we dive into treatments, let’s look at the causes and consequences of herniated discs. 

Your spine is a column of bony vertebrae that can bend and twist thanks to the cushions between each bone called spinal discs. These discs are often described as shock absorbers because they take the brunt of force and pressure when you bend, twist, and jump. 

A closer look at your discs reveals a hard outer shell called the annulus and a squishy inner layer called the nucleus. If the annulus deteriorates due to age or disease or ruptures due to excess force, the nucleus pushes out and bulges into the spinal canal.

Your spine is a very crowded place, and there’s not enough room for any extra parts, so when the nucleus invades the space, it rubs against nearby nerves in the spinal canal, causing pain. 

Your symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on the location and severity of the herniation. Although lumbar (low back) herniated discs are most common, they can occur anywhere along your spine, and you can herniate multiple discs simultaneously. 

If your herniated disc compresses your sciatic nerve, you may feel pain, numbness, or tingling anywhere along its path. Your sciatic nerve runs from your lower back, through each buttock, and down your legs, so the discomfort can radiate sharp pain — sciatica — that can become more severe when you stand, sit, or walk. 

If your herniated disc compresses a nerve in your neck, the pain, called cervical radiculopathy, can radiate similar symptoms to your neck, shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers.

How to treat a herniated disc

The good news is that about 90% of the time, herniated discs can heal on their own without medical intervention. But that doesn’t mean you can go about business as usual. The healing process takes time — in most cases, about six months — and requires some special attention on your part.

Over-the-counter pain medications can reduce inflammation and pain in the area, and you’ll also need to modify your activities until the disc has healed. For most mild-to-moderate cases, this is enough to provide pain relief and promote healing.

However, if these conservative measures don’t work, Dr. Yanamdula may recommend physical therapy to target the support structures around your herniated disc and reduces inflammation.

In some cases, Dr. Yanamadula recommends epidural steroid injections. He uses imaging technology to locate the affected nerve and injects a two-pronged medication: lidocaine numbs the nerve immediately, and the steroid provides long-lasting pain and inflammation relief.

He also performs radiofrequency neurotomy when pain is chronic and unresponsive, a procedure that uses thermal energy to switch off the nerve’s ability to send pain signals. 

If you have a herniated disc, contact us at either of our two New Jersey locations to schedule an appointment with Dr. Yanamadula and find out if you can safely wait it out or if you need professional care.

You Might Also Enjoy...

Why Pain Sustained During an Auto Collision is Often Delayed

Why Pain Sustained During an Auto Collision is Often Delayed

You hear the brakes screeching, the wheels skidding, and the metal crunching — then everything stops. You’re thankful to be alive, and surprisingly, you have no pain — yet. Here’s why the pain may set in later and what you can do about it.

Are There Different Types of Headaches?

No one gets through life without at least one headache, and most experience several — but they aren’t all the same. In fact, there are more than 150 distinct types, making it tough to know how to treat them. Here’s how to differentiate them.
Understanding Your Treatment Options for Sciatica

Understanding Your Treatment Options for Sciatica

Sciatica — that shocking pain that travels from your lower back through your hips and down your leg — can stop you in your tracks. Here’s an overview of the most effective approaches to get you back in action. 

Treating Your Arthritis with Physical Therapy

You’ve always known about arthritis, but you never truly knew arthritis until it hit you. Now, you realize how little you know and are searching for treatments. Surprisingly, physical therapy is your best bet — here’s why.