Can a Herniated Disc Heal Without Surgery?

Many people suffer from back and leg pain. For some, it may be intermittent, while others may experience pain daily. It can be easy to dismiss these types of pain as a simple part of growing older, but it is essential to consult a physician or a physical therapist to discover the true source of the pain. Herniated discs are one of the most common causes of neck, back, and leg pain. 

Although these injuries typically occur in the lower part of the spine (lumbar), they can also occur in the neck (cervical). Reach out to Cawley Physical Therapy to learn how you can recover from a herniated disc without surgery.



What is a Herniated Disc?

The spine is made up of a stack of bones called vertebrae. Intervertebral discs are found between each vertebra, with a soft center protected by a thick outer layer. These discs act as shock absorbers. A herniated disc occurs when significant pressure causes a tear in that protective outer layer, pushing out the soft center and irritating nearby nerves.



What Causes a Herniated Disc?

One common cause of herniated discs is disc degeneration. Disc degeneration occurs because of normal wear and tear as you age. Spinal discs become less flexible over the years, making them more likely to tear or rupture from minor strain. This usually occurs in people over 35 years old.

A sudden impact on the spine causes some herniated discs. A fall on a hard surface or a severe blow to the back could cause a disc to rupture. Accidents like these are the most common cause of herniated discs in people younger than 35.

Most of the time, it isn’t easy to pinpoint exactly what caused a herniated disc. Various movements and circumstances put excessive pressure on the back and neck, such as lifting heavy objects, twisting suddenly, or even excessive body weight.

Certain risk factors increase the chance of herniated discs, including:

    • Obesity.
    • Genetics.
    • Physically demanding jobs that require excessive lifting, bending, pushing, pulling, or twisting.

What Are the Symptoms of a Herniated Disc?

The most common symptom of a herniated disc in the lower back is radiating pain through your buttocks, legs, and feet (sciatica). A herniated disc in the neck will cause neck pain that radiates into your shoulder, arm, hand, or fingers. Herniated discs in both areas can cause numbness and pain that intensify with sudden movements (such as sneezing or coughing).


How is a Herniated Disc Diagnosed?

Your physician or physical therapist may use a combination of a physical exam, neurological exam, medical history, and imaging tests to diagnose your condition. An MRI is the most common imaging test used to diagnose disc problems, but it must be combined with thorough physical and neurological examinations. 

An MRI will reveal a herniation, but there could be a combination of factors causing your pain. Imaging tests such as an x-ray, CT scan, or myelogram may rule out various other conditions, such as infections, tumors, and broken bones. In many instances, diagnostic testing is unnecessary and proper treatment can be rendered based on the findings of a thorough examination by your physician or physical therapist.


How Does Physical Therapy for a Herniated Disc Work?

There are a few possible treatments for herniated discs, some less invasive than others. Unfortunately, some physicians quickly suggest medications, injections, or surgery as treatment–these options are invasive and have serious side effects. Most herniated discs will heal very well with physical therapy, which is non-invasive and should always be the first course of action.

Physical therapy not only heals a herniated disc but also provides immediate pain relief to the patient and teaches them valuable techniques for avoiding a similar injury. Physical therapy for a herniated disc usually combines passive and active techniques. Most therapists will begin treatment with passive therapy, such as deep tissue massage, hot and cold therapy, hydrotherapy, nerve stimulation, LASER, and traction. Many of these techniques reduce inflammation and relieve tension that causes muscle spasms.



Active physical therapy treatments include core stabilizing exercises, flexibility, hydrotherapy, and muscle strengthening. These active treatments help build strength and improve flexibility. A robust and flexible body can help prevent future disc problems. Physical therapy is non-invasive and doesn’t pose any severe side effects. Not only will it help heal a herniated disc, but it will also benefit the patient’s overall health.


Cawley Physical Therapy Can Help You with Herniated Disc Recovery Without Surgery

A herniated disc is a common injury with various causes, from simple aging to serious accidents. These cases rarely require surgery and usually heal very well with simple, non-invasive physical therapy. Physical therapy treatments help relieve pain while healing the disc, and they also provide overall improvements to your health and wellness.

Can a herniated disc heal without surgery?  If you are still unsure about our physical therapy methods, click below to sign up for one of our limited free discovery visits!