How long can it take for a herniated disc to heal without surgery?

how long for herniated disc to heal without surgery

Back pain can be an issue that causes persistent discomfort during unavoidable physical tasks, such as changing your position on the couch or bending over to grab something from a low cabinet. There are many possible causes for back pain, but a herniated disc is one that may take a bit longer to heal than a minor muscle strain. 


When you have a herniated disc, you want the pain and muscle weakness to disappear as soon as you feel it. While most herniated discs can heal on their own, your health care provider may recommend surgery to alleviate the issues. If you don’t want to go that route, it can take up to six weeks for a herniated disc to heal without surgery. The good news is that physical therapy is an effective way to shorten that time frame.


We’re going to talk about what it means to have a herniated disc, how physical therapy can help and the treatments your therapist may use to help heal your herniated disc without surgery.


The basics of herniated discs


Let’s start off by defining what a herniated disc is. There are discs that act as shock absorbers for your spinal vertebrae. A slipped or herniated disc means that its inner nucleus has pushed through a tear or crack in the exterior, causing it to press against the spinal nerves. It can occur anywhere along the spine, but it’s most common in your lower back, also known as a lumbar herniated disc.

The most common symptoms of a herniated disc are pain, muscle weakness and numbness. The pain can be felt in your back, buttocks and legs, often on one side of the body. The ache usually worsens during certain movements, such as:

  • Extending your legs or arms.
  • After standing or sitting.
  • Following short walks.

The incidence rate for a herniated disc is up to 20 cases per 1,000 adults every year with a male-to-female ratio of 2:1. The most common causes of a herniated disc is awkwardly twisting your body or heavy lifting.

Factors that increase the risk of a herniated disc:

  • Labor-intensive jobs.
  • Obesity.
  • Weak muscles.
  • Age.

How physical therapy can help your herniated disc heal without surgery

Even though the general recovery time frame is six weeks for a herniated disc without surgery, every case can vary because everyone heals at a different pace. The goal should be to manage the pain while gradually restoring the strength and mobility of the affected area. That’s why one of the best courses of action for treating a herniated disc is physical therapy.

The benefits of a treating a herniated disc with physical therapy include:

  • Accelerated recovery.
  • Reduced back and leg pain.
  • Decreased muscle spasms.
  • Improved lower body mobility and range of motion.
  • Increased muscle strength.
  • Reduced risk of future pain or injury.

Physical therapy treatments that help heal your herniated disc without surgery

If you choose to let your herniated disc heal without surgery, there are plenty of treatment options that a physical therapist can try. They will design a personalized treatment plan based on the location and severity of your ruptured disc, as well as your physical abilities and medical history.

Two of the most common physical therapy treatments for a herniated disc without surgery are manual therapy and therapeutic exercise.

Manual therapy means that the physical therapist is using their hands to target the pain. For a herniated disc, they will likely perform soft tissue mobilization or spinal manipulation. Soft tissue mobilization involves massage-like movements to alleviate the painful muscle tension and reduce the pressure on the surrounding spinal nerves. Spinal manipulation involves lying on a specialized table while the physical therapist stretches and realigns your spine.

Therapeutic exercise is beneficial for nearly every type of painful condition, including a herniated disc. A physical therapist will walk you through safe and effective exercises that will help to ease the amount of pressure that the disc is placing on your nerves. They will also show you strengthening exercises to increase your spinal stability and reduce the risk of future injury.

Whatcom Physical Therapy offers treatments to help heal your herniated disc without surgery

Surgery isn’t the only option for a herniated disc, and physical therapy is a great option if you’re trying to avoid surgical intervention. With treatment options like manual therapy and therapeutic exercises, you can often alleviate the pain and restore your mobility without needing a procedure. 

At Whatcom Physical Therapy, we know how long it can take for a herniated disc to heal, and we’ll use our expertise to speed up the process.

Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.