As many as 2% of Americans may develop herniated spinal discs every year, most commonly in the lumbar region. The lower back typically carries the heaviest loads, leading to herniation, which may also be called a bulging, ruptured, or slipped disc.
Symptoms depend on where the herniated disc occurs and how much it interferes with movement and surrounding tissue. You could have a herniated disc that doesn’t cause symptoms and only shows up when you have diagnostic imaging for other issues.
When your disc problem causes pain and mobility problems, chances are that the symptoms will pass with time and treatment. You can expedite your recovery with help from the herniated disc specialists at Atlas Neurosurgery and Spine Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. We help you through conservative care therapies since herniated discs rarely require surgery.
Will my herniated disc heal on its own?
Chances are good that your herniated disc symptoms will pass on their own, as is the case about 90% of the time when people have a disc rupture. The question as to whether a disc herniation fully heals is harder to answer.
Spinal discs can heal, and they can also become asymptomatic without fully healing. You may consider yourself healed if you’re out of pain with restored movement. But the absence of pain doesn’t always equal healing. Let’s look at the anatomy of spinal discs and what can happen with them after you suffer a herniation.
The jelly donut
A spinal disc's construction is often compared to a jelly donut. The annulus is the tough outer ring that surrounds a more viscous center, the nucleus. A disc herniation occurs when the nucleus either pushes through a weak spot in the annulus or when the overall shape of the disc distorts dramatically.
The disc is lightly populated with nerve tissue, so the disc itself can hurt, but usually, herniation causes symptoms by pressing on nerve roots that branch off the spinal cord and out to the body. Your vertebrae have spaces for nerves to pass, but distortions of a herniated disc can bulge into those spaces, compressing nerve tissue. Anyone who’s had sciatica knows firsthand what nerve compression can do.
The body’s response
When a herniated disc occurs, several responses from your body lead toward healing.
Sometimes, your body senses that nucleus tissue has broken through the annulus, and an immune system response occurs. The immune system starts an attack by treating the escaping nucleus tissue as a foreign body, reducing the size of the misplaced nucleus tissue and relieving nerve compression.
Escaping nucleus tissue begins to lose its normal moisture level once it’s outside the annulus. Loss of moisture also means loss of size, so the herniated tissue shrinks as it dries out. This, too, can relieve nerve compression and eliminate symptoms.
Physical therapy and modest, low-impact activity can also help you recover from herniated disc pain. Your natural body mechanics can help to reshape the herniated disc toward its normal dimensions. Even if this is only partially successful, it helps immune system effects and loss of moisture to pull disc tissue away from vulnerable nerves.
Often, pain management for herniated discs gives you time for these natural healing benefits to act. Life goes on in the meantime, so when you need help coping with the symptoms of a herniated disc, or if you want to confirm that this is the cause of your pain, visit us at Atlas Neurosurgery and Spine Center.
You can book a consultation using our online link, or you can call the office directly. There’s an answer for your herniated disc symptoms, and we can help you find it. Make an appointment today.