• Dr. Dallin Page, DPT

Can a Herniated Disc Heal Naturally?

Updated: Jul 22

This is a very common question that I hear in the clinic. Keep reading to find out the answer!

It is said that only 1-3 percent of people with a herniated disc present with symptoms of pain, numbness or tingling or weakness, (Dydyk AM et. al., 2021). This is great news for most people who have been diagnosed with a herniated disc.


But if you’re like the majority of my clients you’re probably wondering— “How do I know if I am in the 1-3 percent that is symptomatic"? Or, "How do I heal a herniated disc naturally"?


Here’s some things to consider:

Herniated Disc Pain


It’s important to understand that 97-99 percent of people with a herniated disc won’t have pain. And even if you do have pain (as well as a confirmed herniated disc), who is to say that the herniated disc is in fact the cause of the pain?


Did you know, up to 80% of people will suffer from an episode of back pain at some point during their lifetime? (Rubin Dl., et. al., 2007).


This means there is an astronomically large number of people who have back pain and a herniated disc. But the back pain or sciatica is not the cause of the pain.


Herniated Disc Causing Nerve Pain


A herniated disc becomes a real problem if there is nerve pain or associated numbness or tingling present. Research has proven that a herniated disc rarely causes pain by itself. But a herniated disc becomes a problem if it begins to compress on a nerve as the nerve exits your spine.


A herniated disc causes sensations of tingling, numbness, burning, or pins and needles. If you don’t have any of these sensations then you likely don’t have pain that is caused by a herniated disc.


Herniated Disc Diagnostic Tests


An MRI is the most obvious way to diagnose a herniated disc. But did you know science has proven that most herniated discs are irritated with bending forwards (spinal flexion)?


You can imagine the spinal disc like a small balloon filled with toothpaste. Depending on where you exert pressure or force on the balloon, the toothpaste inside will be forced in the opposite direction.


The spinal disc acts in a similar manner. When excessive pressure is exerted on the front of the disc by bending forward, the gel substance in the center of the disc is forced to the back portion of the disc. If the disc is injured, it may begin to bulge and eventually hit the nerves that pass out of the spine behind where the disc is located.


Just as forward bending will tend to make the pain worse, bending backwards (into extension) will usually improve the pain as this helps to reduce the pressure on the disc and allow it to return to its normal, healthy position where it will not compress the nerve.


Therefore, if you have nerve pain (symptoms mentioned above), your symptoms should become worse with bending forwards and better when bending backward.


A closer evaluation by a Doctor of Physical Therapy will be able to determine whether or not this can be permanently reversible (a "reducible disc bulge" that can heal naturally) or only temporarily relieving (an "irreducible disc bulge" that may require surgery to fix).


If this phenomenon does not occur with your pain then a herniated disc may not be causing your pain. This is obviously good news and means physical therapy should be able to heal your pain.


Can Herniated Discs Heal?


Depending on who you ask you'll likely hear different answers. The key point to make is that even if a herniated disc does not heal, the symptoms can subside (i.e. an asymptomatic herniated disc). Most people don't care if they have a herniated disc, they just don't want the pain.


How to Heal a Herniated Disc Naturally


We first need to rule out if there is something other than a herniated disc that may be causing your symptoms. The most common problems we see that cause pain similar to that of a herniated disc are:

  • Piriformis syndrome

  • Sciatica nerve tension (adherent nerve root or entrapment)

  • Referred pain from the TFL muscle

  • Referred pain from the glute muscles

  • Hip dysfunction (articular and/or myofascial)

A full-body exam will assess spine mobility, hip mobility, balance, and overall strength for any underlying problems.


At our physical therapy clinic in Huntersville, NC, we have found that most people with "herniated disc symptoms" actually have pain due to one of these other sources and is easily treatable via specialized physical therapy.


Physical Therapy for a Herniated Disc

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