Natural healing of herniated disc
August 3, 2010 8:34 PM   Subscribe

How long did it take you to heal naturally from a herniated disc?

I have a lateral herniated disc from L3-L4. I want to wait for surgery. How long did you wait until you were better?

And if you had a low back herniation, thereby having leg pain, did any of you have that rubber band feeling in the knee...and did that ever go away?

posted by lynnie-the-pooh to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I had a bad low back herniation about 12 years ago. No rubber-band feeling, though. I was flat on my back for two weeks and extremely cautious for another week after that.
posted by bryon at 8:39 PM on August 3, 2010

I had a herniated disc L4-L5, it took me 3 months from lying on the living-room floor to going back to work with a limp. It took another year for me to live comfortably again, and two years for me to forget that it could come back. Poor posture, crossing my legs while sitting, and carrying an uneven load are all things that bring it back. The weird feeling in your leg, it went away after 4-6 months.
posted by furtive at 8:46 PM on August 3, 2010

I had a herniated disk in my late teens (L-?/ lower back) that disintegrated due to lack of Dr. taking it seriously. It required surgery. 6 months recovery all told.
posted by marimeko at 9:10 PM on August 3, 2010

My husband suffered painfully from this for more than ten years. He had the medical diagnosis with x-rays, specialists, the whole thing. We agreed that he could try every treatment he wished but if they failed he would go to a chiropractor before surgery. Other men in his family had done this and had powerful testimonies. Finally he went, though he firmly believed it was a waste of time. After one session he felt some relief. After three he could walk again without pain, and after seven he was completely cured. We still refer to it as a miraculous healing because he is truly without pain. He carries cases of water, one on each shoulder, up three flights of stairs, walks great lengths, and can even stand still for a half hour before he must move.

Please consider seeing a chiropractor before you have surgery. Get a recommendation from someone you know and just try it.
posted by Mertonian at 12:30 AM on August 4, 2010

I have 3 now. Spent six weeks mostly in bed. Most of the pain went away about the time I had an MRI. (used pain medication and oral steroids) I'm now seeing a physical therapist, which has really helped. I don't believe they ever heal naturally. The best you can hope for is to strengthen the muscles for support and decompress the spine and hope some of the disk goes back to where it should be.
posted by jeblis at 12:32 AM on August 4, 2010

Every body is different and every recovery has its own time. From personal experience, chiropractor manipulation to the area of the herniation was a very big mistake and almost caused irreversable damage. If I knew then what I know now, I'd probably would have ventured into doing yogic breathing exercises, meditation and visualization and maintained the highest possible quiality diet with supplementation of all necessary nutrients and superfoods to bring my body into the best condition to deal with the stress.

Instead I went the conventional route of surgery - discectomy and laminectomy - took a year to heal, received cortisone shots (very bad) and did some (but not enough) PT. Today, in most cases the orthopedic surgeon will put an implant into the empty area of the spine to create a buffered cushion and to prevent further collapse of the spine. They did not do this in my case and I have been suffering as a result - mostly due to imbalance, weakness and subsequent stenosis. If you do decide to go for the surgery, it would be a very good idea to discuss the implant with your surgeon to avoid complications later on. Good luck.
posted by watercarrier at 12:56 AM on August 4, 2010

Three months before the pain in my leg went (mostly) away in low-impact activities. Eleven months before I could go jogging again. No knee problem.
posted by oceanmorning at 2:25 AM on August 4, 2010

I had a C5-C7 herniated disc. My right arm was in a lot of pain, some of my fingers were numb.

The specialist recommended surgery as the herniation (sp?) was "quite large", but I went for 2 cortisone injections (a month apart) instead. I felt pretty good after, but now and then I'd get pressure on the nerve in my neck again. I kept doing exercises to stretch and strengthen the neck muscles, and the frequency of pain decreased. Poor posture and/or straining my neck would bring the pain on again.

A year later now, I have no problems. Even straining my neck and poor posture cause me no troubles. But of course I still try to avoid doing those things. I also make sure to keep my neck muscles in shape.
posted by herox at 4:20 AM on August 4, 2010

There are different severities of disc herniation. Some of them will go away on their own or become asymptomatic with time, some of them will stay the same or get worse. This depends on a lot of different factors: the severity of the initial disc herniation, your posture and the way you use your body from day to day, the general state of your health. So look at different people's personal experience with this injury with a grain of salt, because YMMV by quite a bit.

Here's what I would do: go here (Find a PT) and find a physical therapist in your area with the letters OCS after their name. If you don't have one nearby, call a few of the PTs in your area and ask if they are McKenzie certified. They will have the clinical skills to perform a thorough evaluation of your back. Then they might do some manual work similar to what the chiropractors mentioned upthread might do, or they might give you some exercises that you can use to help your back feel better, likely a combination of both. The good thing about going to a PT is, if this is something you can get under control on your own, they will give you the tools to manage it if it becomes symptomatic again in the future. They can also look at your body and the way you move and tell you if there is anything you're doing that could have brought this problem on, or could make it worse.

Depending on the state where you live, you might need to call your MD and get a prescription for physical therapy.
posted by jennyjenny at 4:25 AM on August 4, 2010

Seconding the recommendation for physical therapy. I injured (and probably herniated--they never did an MRI) my L4-L5 about three years ago, and it took ~3 months of twice-a-week-PT to get it back to an almost unnoticeable amount of background pain. Unfortunately, I was an idiot and let the maintenance exercises they gave me lapse, so I re-injured the same disc (and very definitely herniated it) about six months ago. It is MUCH worse the second time around--I still can't drive a car or lift anything. So, while recovery times are very much situational, but you can accelerate things with a good PT regimen.

The fact you're having leg pain is troubling--have you been in close contact with your doctor about that? I've had an orthopedic surgeon tell me "yep, yours is herniated, but there's no nerve injury, so surgery is off the table," but if you've got a disc pressing against a major nerve cluster, there's the potential for serious damage. I know surgery sucks, but it's a lot better than degenerative nerve damage in your leg...
posted by Mayor West at 5:12 AM on August 4, 2010

3 courses of PT, never stopped doing the exercises in between, and the herniated disk at L5/S1 ruptured instead of improving.

The next one up herniated and I now mostly just rest, since the overall pain is immense, and the disk itself has improved somewhat. The pain isn't, though.
posted by galadriel at 6:18 AM on August 4, 2010

I have had two herniations since I was 30. In my experience, one never recovers. You can go through all sorts of treatments and PT, and you will get temporary relief from the discomfort and pain. However, none of that is going to actually cure the herniation.

Now, that said, you might get lucky and the herniation does not worsen and you are able to function the rest of your life with the discomfort, aided by whatever treatment seems to help control the pain. That would be, in my experience, some fantastic luck, though. If you are suffering from sciatic pain down your leg now, you are injuring nerves. Over the long-haul, this will only get worse. Honest.

I know one gentleman who has lived with a severely herniated lumbar disc for almost 20 years. He claims to have it under control, thanks to PT exercises. He also says he has no feeling in his toes and has constant sciatic pain. How that qualifies as "controlled", I have no idea.

In my case, both times I ended up on the surgeon's table. Most recently last March. I hate to tell you this but, ultimately, the only course for actual pain-relief and healing of the injured nerves will be surgery.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:30 AM on August 4, 2010

Herniated in the mid-back six years ago (sorry, forgotten which vertebra). No particular arm or leg pain, just intense agony whenever I, y'know, moved. It was two or three weeks before I could stand or walk without intense discomfort and maybe three months before I was genuinely close to recovered.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:34 AM on August 4, 2010

I had intermittent back problems for 6-7 years and then an acute herniation of L4-L5 and lost all deep tendon reflexes in left leg and experienced severe pain. Had a laminectomy and six weeks later took a 500 mile bicycle trip. Started supervised rehab through a university based kinesiotherapy program 2 weeks post op and continued exercises for years. 3o plus years later no re-occurrence. I believe the facts are that recovery is extremely variable based on nature of injury, weight, muscle tone etc. Good Luck--I do know that weight management and specific strengthening and stretching exercises can be extremely important whether the recovery is surgical or nonsurgical.
posted by rmhsinc at 7:31 AM on August 4, 2010

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