A herniated disc can cause pain in your back and tingling in your arms or legs. It is an uncomfortable condition that can limit your ability to work and enjoy life. As soon as you seek treatment for your herniated disc, you can start your healing journey. In most cases, pain from herniated discs will subside within two to 8 weeks. However, in some cases, your herniated disc might take up to six months to fully heal.  

Every patient is different, and so is their healing timeline. However, you can take steps to support your overall health and help your body heal. Learn more about the time it takes for a herniated disc to heal and the factors that affect the healing process. 


What is a herniated disc?

Each vertebra in your spine is protected by discs that work as shock absorbers within your body. These discs are made of an outer shell (annulus fibrosis) and a gel-like center (nucleus pulposus). Occasionally, the inner nucleus will push through the outer shell. This is known as a herniated disc

Patients experience discomfort caused by the herniated disc when the nucleus pushes into the nerve canal. Symptoms include back pain at the location of the herniated along with numbness and tingling in the arms or legs. This tingling occurs because the nerves that send messages through the body are affected by the nucleus pushing onto them. 

A herniated disc can occur in the cervical spine (the neck) which would cause tingling in the arms and fingers. It can also occur in the lumbar region (the lower back) and cause leg numbness and pain. 


Factors That Influence Herniated Disc Healing Times

Different factors affect herniated healing times. Some of these factors are in your control – like your adherence to the treatment plan – while others aren’t. Here are a few ways you can help your body heal along with factors that could slow this process down.  

Severity of the Herniation

Disc herniation can be considered mild, moderate, or severe. Herniated discs can be caused by everyday wear or by an accident. When you meet with your doctor to discuss your herniated disc, they will go over the level of severity and what this means for your treatment plan. 

The more severe the injury, the longer it usually takes to heal. Even if you follow the treatment plan carefully, a severe herniation could take longer to resolve itself than you would like. 

Treatment Approach

The treatment that your doctor recommends will depend on the severity of your herniation. Mild and moderate disc herniations could be treated with non-surgical options. These usually include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and pain medication while the body heals. If the pain levels persist after four to six weeks after starting the treatment plan, your doctor might recommend steroid injections. 

If the pain persists, your doctor might recommend surgery to treat the herniation. It takes around three months to fully recover from artificial disc replacement but you should be able to resume light activity within three weeks of the operation. 

Patient’s Overall Health

Your health plays a significant role in the healing process. If you get enough sleep, regularly exercise, maintain a healthy diet, and don’t smoke, your body should be able to heal from the herniation quickly. This is because your body has the rest and the nutrients it needs to thrive. 

It’s never too late to make changes to your overall health. Even taking small steps like quitting smoking or trying low-impact sports like swimming can support your body and help you heal faster. 

Adherence to Rehabilitation Protocols

Regardless of whether your doctor recommends surgical or non-surgical treatments, they will also give you rehabilitation protocols and exercises to complete. It is your job to complete these physical therapy and rehabilitation exercises to support your muscles. These activities can preserve your range of motion while helping your body bounce back. The more you follow your rehabilitation guidelines, the easier it will be for your body to heal. 


The Healing Process

Herniated discs take time to heal because multiple aspects of your spine need to recover from the shock of the nucleus breaking. Here are a few steps of the healing process and how they will affect you. 

  • Reduced inflammation: while inflammation is a natural response from your body to protect a damaged area, it makes your back sensitive to the touch. Your doctor will treat the inflammation with medication or cold therapy. This should start the healing process and occur within the first week. 
  • Tissue repair: during this phase, the nucleus of the disc either dries up or stops pushing into the nerve canal. This means the herniation is going into regression. The tissue around the herniation will need to heal during this time. This is the bulk of the healing period and should take between two and 12 weeks.  
  • Remodeling: this occurs when the areas of your body affected by the herniation start to heal. Your muscles should start to get stronger and your flexibility will return. This occurs in the back part of the healing timeline. 

Dr. Lanman can go over the healing process in greater detail when you meet with him to treat your herniation. 


Personalized Timelines for Herniated DIsc Healing

It is impossible to estimate how long it will take for your herniated disc to heal. A medical professional needs to evaluate the severity of the herniation and develop a treatment plan. Your health and dedication to physical therapy will determine how much progress you make. 

To get a firm answer about healing timelines, schedule an appointment with your doctor. If you meet with Dr. Todd H. Lanman, founder of the Advanced Disc Replacement Spinal Restoration Center, he will provide expert insights into your herniation and give you a healing timeline based on his experience. If your herniation doesn’t heal as expected, Dr. Lanman can recommend alternative treatment options and will continue to work on your case until you feel comfortable again. 


Tips for a Speedy Recovery

Most patients take a multi-pronged approach to healing from a herniation or other source of back pain. This means they don’t rely on a single treatment option to provide a cure. Here are a few steps you can take to support your recovery process along with any recommended treatments that Dr. Lanman provides. 

Diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes

Try to live a healthy life outside of your herniated disc management. Follow a routine sleep schedule and quit smoking. Embrace a healthy diet and try different low-impact exercises to see which ones you like. These healthy habits can support your recovery and protect your body for decades to come.  

Pain management strategies

Your doctor can recommend medication for your back pain but they also might suggest additional treatments. Heat therapy can soothe the muscles that are strained because of the herniation. Cold therapy can address inflammation. These two therapeutic options work together to reduce pain levels and sensitivity, helping your body heal. 

Psychological support

An emotional support system is important for physical healing. Family, friends, or loved ones can motivate you to keep up with your physical therapy exercises while providing a caring ear to hear about your pain. They will also cheer you on as your herniation starts to heal and you move confidently through the recovery process. 


Success Stories & Final Thoughts from Dr. Lanman

A herniated disc can interfere with your life, but seeking treatment early on can put you on the path to healing. Following your treatment plan and keeping up with physical therapy can help you lower your pain levels and take over the recovery process. You can’t control the severity of the herniation, but you have full power over how you respond to it. 

If you suspect that you have a herniated disc or other form of back pain, request a consultation with Dr. Lanman today. He can evaluate the severity of your condition and recommend a personalized treatment plan based on your needs. He is the support system you need to streamline the healing process.



Can a herniated disc heal 100%?

Your herniated disc can heal on its own, but there is no guarantee that it will completely return to how it was before. Instead, your herniation will go into remission where the disc either shrinks or dries up. With the right treatment, most of your symptoms will go away.  

How do I know my herniated disc is healing?

The main indicator that your herniated disc is healing is a reduction in pain. You should be able to stop taking your pain medication or significantly lower the dose. Other symptoms, like numbness and tingling in your extremities, should also go away. 

Will I ever be able to run again with a herniated disc?

While most herniated discs heal on their own within 12 weeks, some severe herniations require longer-term treatment. Ask your doctor if it will be safe to run after your herniation heals. They might recommend other low-impact cardio exercises like cycling or swimming. 

Is surgery always necessary for a herniated disc, and how does it impact healing time?

Surgery is not recommended for mild or moderate herniated discs. Your doctor will instead recommend non-surgical treatment plans that involve medication and physical therapy. However, in severe cases, you may be a candidate for surgery. You can expect your herniated disc to heal within three months of your operation on average. 

Are there warning signs that my herniated disc healing is not progressing as expected?

If your herniated disc is not improving, your symptoms will either remain the same or worsen. If your pain gets worse and you discover new symptoms – like numbness in your extremities or fatigue – your herniation might not be healing. Tell your doctor about these changes so they can look for more advanced treatment options. 

How can I get immediate relief from a herniated disc?

If you are in severe pain from your herniation, your doctor should recommend a course of medication. This will address the inflammation and pain from the damaged disc. In some cases, your doctor may recommend a steroid injection to treat your discomfort.


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