How Long Does Herniated Disc Recovery Usually Take?

An ice pack may help relieve pain associated with a herniated disc.
Herniated disc recovery time depends upon the extent of the injury.
A patient with a herniated disc may undergo several weeks of physical therapy.
Some people miss a month or more of work, because heavy lifting is limited with a herniated disc.
A healthy spine and a spine with a herniated disc.
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  • Written By: Amanda Barnhart
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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Herniated disc recovery can take anywhere from several weeks up to six months or more, depending on the extent of the injury and what treatment methods are used. Some people experience chronic pain following a herniated disc or suffer from multiple recurrences of the problem. Patients who follow a treatment plan to relieve pain and strengthen their backs usually recover more quickly than those who let the problem run its course or ignore the pain. Treatment for a herniated disc focuses on reducing pain and strengthening the back and core muscles to stabilize the spine and protect the disc.

Some people who suffer from the condition have no symptoms or simply suffer from mild pain. For these individuals, herniated disc recovery may only take a few weeks. Mild pain or discomfort can often be managed effectively with ice, heat, over-the-counter pain medications, and lifestyle changes. Ice helps reduce inflammation, while heat relaxes the muscles around the spine to help relieve pressure on nerves from a herniated disc. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, can help minimize pain. Avoiding painful positions, maintaining good posture with the spine aligned, and using proper lifting techniques — using the legs instead of the back — can help prevent further pain and problems.

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People who experience moderate to severe pain that limits their daily activities may take as long as 12 weeks or more to recover from a herniated disc. If over-the-counter pain relievers fail to control the pain adequately, doctors may prescribe patients with herniated discs a stronger narcotic pain reliever, such as codeine or hydrocodone. Nerve pain medications, including gabapentin, tramadol, and duloxetine, are also used to control pain. Prescription muscle relaxers also can help relieve pressure on the nerves and minimize spasms in patients who experience these symptoms during herniated disc recovery.

Physical therapy can help patients who still suffer from pain or restricted movement from a herniated disc after several weeks of healing. Physical therapists work with patients to teach them exercises to help relieve pain and increase range of motion. They also teach patients proper posture, lifting, bending, and carrying techniques to minimize further injury to the spine and discs. Physical therapy may continue for several weeks following a herniated disc.

Though most people do not require surgery, patients who do not see an improvement in their symptoms after following a non-surgical treatment plan for 12 weeks or patients who experience severe limb weakness, numbness, or inhibited bowel or bladder function as a result of a herniated disc may need surgery to correct the problem. Surgeons may remove and replace the disc to prevent further problems. Herniated disc recovery following surgery may only take a few weeks. Many patients experience pain relief immediately and can walk and sit up right after surgery. Patients are typically advised to refrain from heavy lifting and strenuous physical activity for a month or more after surgery.

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fBoyle
Post 4

My mom suffered from this years ago. She always says that short-term herniated disc relief can be found with medications. But the only permanent treatment is strengthening the back muscles which can take a long time.

ddljohn
Post 3

@SarahGen-- I'm sorry to hear about your situation. But hang in there, I'm sure things will get better. You must look into alternative herniated disc treatments if what you have done so far is not working.

Have you received physical therapy? I highly recommend doing that if you haven't so already. Physical therapy will help you strengthen your muscles. The therapist will also show you in detail the types of movements you need to avoid. Home exercises are good and necessary but I think that they should be used in support of physical therapy.

SarahGen
Post 2

I was diagnosed with a herniated disc in my back two years ago. My doctor did tell me at the time that the MRI showed that the hernia is older and was present for at least several years.

After my diagnosis, I used pain relievers, avoided lifting anything heavy and tried to strengthen my back with exercises at home. But the pain kept coming back. So one year ago, I was given a cortisone shot to relieve the pain. The cortisone worked and I was completely pain free until last month. Last month, I had a sudden and very painful back spasm. I have numbness and tingling in both legs and I can barely walk. I was given another cortisone shot last week which is yet to take effect.

I'm so tired of this. I just want to feel better and live without pain. I think my recovery is taking very long. I'm worried now that I'm going to have a recurrence every year. And I know that I can't keep taking cortisone either. I feel helpless.

Axeleye
Post 1

A heating pad may also bring relief, as well as topical herbal balms featuring "heating" properties. Other natural options include raw, unprocessed apple cider vinegar, which can be applied topically or used in a bath. Certain essential oils that help relieve aches may also be helpful in a bath, such as lavender essential oil.

The arnica herb is another helpful topical option. Strain the herb and use the remaining liquid to relieve aches and pains.

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