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What Is a Herniated Disc and How to Help It?

Herniated discs, also referred to as a slipped disc or ruptured discs, can occur anywhere in the spine. Most often, they occur in the cervical spine (neck) or lumbar spine (lower back), typically causing “a pinched nerve.”

Herniated disc symptoms can subside over time, but does that mean the disc is healed? Depending on who you ask, you may get different answers to this question. While it is true that herniated disc symptoms can subside over time, even without medical intervention, this does not necessarily mean the herniated disc has healed.

How Does a Herniated Disc Cause Pain?

Discs herniate either by rupturing the outer layer of the disc called the annulus, or breaking the endplate off the vertebral body, allowing the soft center to ooze out. This gel then pinches or compress parts of the nerve, which is what causes pain. The inflammatory proteins affect the nearby nerve and cause what is commonly known as sciatica, or a radiculopathy.

Can a Herniated Disc Get Better on its Own?

At times, herniated discs may appear to improve on their own. Three main body functions can help herniated discs to heal:

Your Body’s Immune Response: Your body may recognize the herniated disc as a foreign material, then attack it. This helps to reduce the size of it, thus removing the inflammatory proteins.

Water Absorption: Since a herniated disc fragment contains water, the water can be absorbed by the body. This helps it shrink in size and affect the nerves less.

Disc mechanics: Extension exercises help move the portion of the disc experiencing the symptoms inward toward the disc and away from the spinal nerves.

The above factors can help reduce the disc herniation, which means your nerve root is less likely to be affected. However the disc has not healed, because the disc still has a herniation.

How to Help Manage a Herniated Disc

For patients with a herniated disc, the question is not whether the disc is healed. Rather patients should focus on rehabilitation and treatments to reduce symptoms and prevent future problems.

Learn more about diagnosis and symptoms for herniated discs. There are known treatment options that show favorable results in improving pain and dysfunction.

Learn About Treatment Options

Early surgical intervention is usually not recommended. However, there are many non-surgical treatments available, including epidural nerve block and radiofrequency neurotomy

Research studies have identified many people who actually have a sizable disc herniation and yet are totally pain-free. For those individuals, the disc herniation is not a source of pain. The best first step is finding a qualified pain treatment center.

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